Phytoplankton produce allelochemicals; excreted chemical substances that are affecting other microorganisms in their direct environment.
In my thesis, I investigated strain specific variability in the expression of allelochemicals of the harmful flagellate Prymnesium parvum, that is euryhaline but mainly bloom forming in brackish water. I found a large variation among strains, but further showed that all strains of P. parvum were more allelopathic in brackish water compared to marine water.
In a marine microbial community, allelochemicals can affect prey, competitors and grazers both, directly and indirectly. For instance, in a food web where grazing controls prey abundance, the negative direct effect of allelochemicals on grazers will positive affect their prey. During my thesis, I investigated how marine microbial communities respond to the addition of allelochemicals. I performed field experiments with microbial communities from seawater collected from different places over Europe, and tested how this communities respond to the addition of allelochemicals from the dinoflagellate Alexandrium tamarense. Before I incubated the microbial communities for several days with A. tamarense algal filtrate, I evaluated the allelopathic efficiency of the algal filtrates with an algal monoculture of Rhodomonas spp. This allowed me to compare the effect of A. tamarense filtrate between the different microbial communities.
In general, bacteria reached higher abundances when allelochemicals were present. As allelochemicals also inhibited nanoflagellates and ciliates, we concluded, that allelochemicals indirectly benefit bacteria by reducing grazing pressure. In microbial food webs with many heterotrophic grazers, allelochemicals further benefitted other phytoplankton by inhibiting grazers.
It was also shown that bioavailable DOM is released from a microbial community when allelochemicals are present. As most DOM was released from the seawater fraction > 60 μm, we concluded, that larger microorganisms are more affected by allelochemicals than smaller microorganisms. The results can be explained by the surface to volume ratio of microorganisms: Larger organisms provide more contact surface for allelochemicals, and therefore, are probably more vulnerable towards allelochemicals.
In conclusion, the effect of allelochemicals on a microbial community depends among others on the structure of the microbial food web, the amount of available DOM, the particle density in the seawater and the composition of the phytoplankton community.
Växjö, Kalmar: Linnaeus University Press , 2011.
Microbial food web, Allelopathy, Alexandrium tamarense, Prymnesium parvum, Infochemicals, marine plankton community