It remains unclear as to how mixoplankton (coupled phototrophy and phagotrophy in one cell) affects the estimation of grazing rates obtained from the widely used dilution grazing technique. To address this issue, we prepared laboratory-controlled dilution experiments with known mixtures of phyto-, protozoo-, and mixoplankton, operated under different light regimes and species combinations. Our results evidenced that chlorophyll is an inadequate proxy for phytoplankton when mixoplankton are present. Conversely, species-specific cellular counts could assist (although not fully solve) in the integration of mixoplanktonic activity in a dilution experiment. Moreover, cell counts can expose prey selectivity patterns and intraguild interactions among grazers. Our results also demonstrated that whole community approaches mimic reality better than single-species laboratory experiments. We also confirmed that light is required for protozoo- and mixoplankton to correctly express their feeding activity, and that overall diurnal grazing is higher than nocturnal. Thus, we recommend that a detailed examination of initial and final plankton communities should become routine in dilution experiments, and that incubations should preferably be started at the beginning of both day and night periods. Finally, we hypothesize that in silico approaches may help disentangle the contribution of mixoplankton to the community grazing of a given system.
© 2021. The Author(s).