We observed marine benthic interstitial ciliates Geleia sp. and Tracheloraphis sp. inhabiting the water column of a chemically stratified salt pond. This habitat is uncharacteristic for interstitial ciliates, yet they displayed active and abundant planktonic populations (up to 800 and 250 cells/liter, respectively) and a well-defined pattern of vertical distribution. Completely absent from the oxygenated epilimnion, they first appeared at the oxic/anoxic interface and were present throughout the anoxic hypolimnion. The data could not be explained by a passive removal (e.g. by currents) of these ciliates from their conventional habitat (soft sediments) to water column. The results suggest that 1) these ciliates favored an anoxic environment, and 2) they switched to a planktonic lifestyle as appropriate conditions (seasonal anoxia) developed in the water column. This sharply contrasts the classic view of these ciliates as specifically benthic and aerobic (albeit microaerophilic) organisms. We hypothesize that Geleia sp. and Tracheloraphis sp. can readily grow in either water column or benthos, but are typically found in sediments simply because they contain their preferred (anoxic) niche.
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Vol. 50 • No. 5