Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Mark R. Patterson


A majority of carbon in freshwater and marine ecosystems is in the form of ultraplankton, heterotrophic and autotrophic plankton &<&5 &\mu&m including heterotrophic bacteria, Prochlorococcus, cyanobacteria, and autotrophic eucaryotes. However, ultraplankton and subsequently microbial food webs have yet to be incorporated into models of benthic-pelagic coupling despite the preponderance of macroinvertebrates with the capacity to feed on ultraplankton. I have examined the role of microbial food webs in benthic-pelagic coupling in three ecosystems: Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia; Gulf of Maine, Northwest Atlantic Ocean; and Conch Reef, Florida Keys, USA. Using sponges as a model organism and in situ measurements, I have quantified (1) suspension feeding on ultraplankton and (2) release of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and phosphorus (DIP) resulting in direct evidence that benthic macroinvertebrates do occupy the level of primary consumer within the microbial food web. Dual-beam flow cytometry was employed to quantified sponge suspension feeding on five types of ultraplankton: heterotrophic bacteria, Synechococcus-type cyanobacteria, autotrophic picoplankton &<&3 &\mu&m, autotrophic eucaryotes 3-10 &\mu&m, and in marine ecosystems Prochlorococcus. Grazing by the freshwater sponges Baikalospongia intermedia and B. bacilliferia and the boreal marine sponge, Mycale lingua, was unselective for all types of ultraplankton with efficiencies ranging from 63-99%. This is the first time that grazing on Synechococcus-type cyanobacteria and Prochlorococcus by macroinvertebrates has been quantified in freshwater and marine ecosystems. Conversely, the coral reef sponges Ircinia felix and I. strobilina release significant amounts of DIN and DIP as a result of grazing on procaryotic plankton. Using a general model for organism-mediated fluxes, it is conservatively estimated that through active suspension feeding sponges in Lake Baikal retain 1.97 g C day&\sp{lcub}-1{rcub}& m&\sp{lcub}-2{rcub}& and M. lingua retains 29 mg C day&\sp{lcub}-1{rcub}& m&\sp{lcub}-2{rcub}& while at Conch Reef sponges released 204 &\mu&mol DIN day&\sp{lcub}-1{rcub}& m&\sp{lcub}-2{rcub}& and 48 &\mu&mol DIP day&\sp{lcub}-1{rcub}& m&\sp{lcub}-2{rcub}&. A majority of the carbon retained at all three locations was from procaryotic cell types suggesting that ultraplankton are an important overlooked component of benthic-pelagic coupling.



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