Food selectivity and the mechanisms of food selection were analyzed by video microscopy for three species (Spumella, Ochromonas, Cafeteria) of interception-feeding heterotrophic nanoflagellates. The fate of individual prey particles, either live bacteria and/or inert particles, was recorded during the different stages of the particle-flagellate-interaction, which included capture, ingestion, digestion, and egestion. The experiments revealed species-specific differences and new insights into the underlying mechanisms of particle selection by bacterivorous flagellates. When beads and bacteria were offered simultaneously, both particles were ingested unselectively at similar rates. However, the chrysomonads Spumella and Ochromonas egested the inert beads after a vacuole passage time of only 2–3 min, which resulted in an increasing proportion of bacteria in the food vacuoles. Vacuole passage time for starved flagellates was significantly longer compared to that of exponential-phase flagellates for Spumella and Ochromonas. The bicosoecid Cafeteria stored all ingested particles, beads as well as bacteria, in food vacuoles for more then 30 min. Therefore “selective digestion” is one main mechanism responsible for differential processing of prey particles. This selection mechanism may explain some discrepancies of former experiments using inert particles as bacterial surrogates for measuring bacterivory.
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Vol. 48 • No. 4