Copepod Prey Selection and Grazing Efficiency Mediated by Chemical and Morphological Defensive Traits of Cyanobacteria

Luciana M. Rangel, Lúcia H.S. Silva, Elisabeth J. Faassen, Miquel Lürling*, Kemal Ali Ger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Phytoplankton anti-grazer traits control zooplankton grazing and are associated with harmful blooms. Yet, how morphological versus chemical phytoplankton defenses regulate zooplankton grazing is poorly understood. We compared zooplankton grazing and prey selection by contrasting morphological (filament length: short vs. long) and chemical (saxitoxin: STX- vs. STX+) traits of a bloom-forming cyanobacterium (Raphidiopsis) offered at different concentrations in mixed diets with an edible phytoplankton to a copepod grazer. The copepod selectively grazed on the edible prey (avoidance of cyanobacteria) even when the cyanobacterium was dominant. Avoidance of the cyanobacterium was weakest for the "short STX-" filaments and strongest for the other three strains. Hence, filament size had an effect on cyanobacterial avoidance only in the STX- treatments, while toxin production significantly increased cyanobacterial avoidance regardless of filament size. Moreover, cyanobacterial dominance reduced grazing on the edible prey by almost 50%. Results emphasize that the dominance of filamentous cyanobacteria such as Raphidiopsis can interfere with copepod grazing in a trait specific manner. For cyanobacteria, toxin production may be more effective than filament size as an anti-grazer defense against selectively grazing zooplankton such as copepods. Our results highlight how multiple phytoplankton defensive traits interact to regulate the producer-consumer link in plankton ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2020


  • cyanotoxin
  • functional trait
  • harmful algal bloom
  • neurotoxin
  • predator defense

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