Predation as a shaping force for the phenotypic and genotypic composition of planktonic bacteria

Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 2002 Aug;81(1-4):413-34. doi: 10.1023/a:1020505204959.


Predation is a major mortality factor of planktonic bacteria and an important shaping force for the phenotypic and taxonomic structure of bacterial communities. In this paper we: (1) summarise current knowledge on bacterial phenotypic properties which affect their vulnerability towards grazers, and (2) review experimental evidence demonstrating that this phenotypic heterogeneity results in shifts of bacterial community composition during enhanced protist grazing pressure. Size-structured interactions are especially important in planktonic systems and bacterial cell size influences the mortality rate and the type of grazer to which bacteria are most susceptible. When protists are the major bacterivores, both very small and large bacterial cells gain some size refuge. Recent studies have revealed that also various non-morphological traits such as motility, physicochemical surface characters and toxicity affect bacterial vulnerability and protist feeding success. These properties are effective at different stages during the feeding process of interception feeding flagellates (encounter, capture, ingestion, digestion). Grazing-resistant bacteria in natural communities can account for a substantial portion of the total bacterial biomass at least in more productive aquatic systems. In field and laboratory experiments it has been demonstrated that increased protozoan grazing results in shifts in the phenotypic and genotypic composition of the bacterial assemblage. The importance of this shaping force for the bacterial community structure depends, however, on the overall food web structure, especially on the composition of the metazooplankton. Whereas the structuring impact of bacterial grazers is well documented, relatively little is known about how grazing-mediated changes in bacterial communities influence microbially mediated processes and biogeochemically important transformations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Ecosystem*
  • Eukaryota / physiology*
  • Genotype
  • Phenotype
  • Plankton / classification*
  • Plankton / genetics
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Water / parasitology
  • Water Microbiology*


  • Water