For an algal bloom to develop, the growth rate of the bloom-forming species must exceed the sum of all loss processes. Among these loss processes, grazing is generally believed to be one of the more important factors. Based on numerous field studies, it is now recognized that microzooplankton are dominant consumers of phytoplankton in both open ocean and coastal waters. Heterotrophic protists, a major component of microzooplankton communities, constitute a vast complex of diverse feeding strategies and behavior which allow them access to even the larger phytoplankton species. A number of laboratory studies have shown the capability of different protistan species to feed and grow on bloom-forming algal species. Because of short generation times, their ability for fast reaction to short-term variation in food conditions enables phagotrophic protists to fulfill the function of a heterotrophic buffer, which might balance the flow of matter in case of phytoplankton blooms. The importance of grazing as a control of microalgae becomes most apparent by its failure; if community grazing controls initial stages of bloom development, there simply is no bloom. However, if a certain algal species is difficult to graze, e.g. due to specific defense mechanisms, reduced grazing pressure will certainly favor bloom development. The present contribution will provide a general overview on the interactions between planktonic microalgae and protozoan grazers with special emphasis on species-specific interactions and algal defense strategies against protozoan grazers.
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Vol. 51 • No. 2