Interaction of nutrient limitation and protozoan grazing determines the phenotypic structure of a bacterial community

Microb Ecol. 2003 May;45(4):384-98. doi: 10.1007/s00248-003-2000-0. Epub 2003 Apr 22.


We examined the impact of nutrient conditions (carbon and phosphorus limitation) and grazing by protozoans on the phenotypic community structure of freshwater bacteria in continuous culture systems. Lakewater bacteria were grown on mineral medium, which was supplemented with glucose and amino acids and adjusted by different phosphorus concentrations to achieve either carbon or phosphorus limitation. Each nutrient treatment was inoculated with the same bacterial community and consisted of a nongrazing and a grazing treatment, to which the heterotrophic nanoflagellates Spumella sp. and Ochromonas sp. were added. We found that nutrient conditions alone resulted in differences in the phenotypic structure of the bacterial community: small and motile bacteria dominated under C limitation while large, elongated, and capsulated bacteria were characteristic for P limitation. The genotypic community composition as measured by T-RFLP (terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism) was not severely influenced by the two nutrient treatments. In the presence of flagellate predators, grazing-resistant bacteria developed under both nutrient conditions, but with different survival mechanisms: highly motile bacteria prevailed under C limitation, whereas the P-limited grazing treatment was dominated by filamentous forms. T-RFLP analysis revealed only moderate changes in bacterial community composition due to grazing, which were most pronounced under P limitation. Analysis by video microscopy revealed that high swimming speed is an efficient nonmorphological survival mechanism for bacteria to reduce the capture success of the flagellate predator. The rejection of optimal-sized, nonmotile bacteria under P limitation suggests the importance of other nonmorphological, surface-located cell properties. Our results illustrate that the realized mechanisms of grazing resistance are linked to the actual limitation conditions, and that the combined effects of nutrient limitation and grazing are major determinants of bacterial community structure.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria*
  • Carbon / metabolism
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Ecosystem
  • Eukaryota*
  • Food Chain*
  • Genotype
  • Phenotype
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Population Dynamics
  • Water Microbiology*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Phosphorus
  • Carbon