Collaborative Research: Alternative Nutritional Strategies in Antarctic Protists
This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).
Most organisms meet their carbon and energy needs using photosynthesis (phototrophy) or ingestion/assimilation of organic substances (heterotrophy). However, a nutritional strategy that combines phototrophy and heterotrophy - mixotrophy - is geographically and taxonomically widespread in aquatic systems. While the presence of mixotrophs in the Southern Ocean is known only recently, preliminary evidence indicates a significant role in Southern Ocean food webs. Recent work on Southern Ocean dinoflagellate, Kleptodinium, suggests that it sequesters functional chloroplasts of the bloom-forming haptophyte, Phaeocystis antarctica. This dinoflagellate is abundant in the Ross Sea, has been reported elsewhere in the Southern Ocean, and may have a circumpolar distribution. By combining nutritional modes. mixotrophy may offer competitive advantages over pure autotrophs and heterotrophs.
The goals of this project are to understand the importance of alternative nutritional strategies for Antarctic species that combine phototrophic and phagotrophic processes in the same organism. The research will combine field investigations of plankton and ice communities in the Southern Ocean with laboratory experiments on Kleptodinium and recently identified mixotrophs from our Antarctic culture collections. The research will address: 1) the relative contributions of phototrophy and phagotrophy in Antarctic mixotrophs; 2) the nature of the relationship between Kleptodinium and its kleptoplastids; 3) the distributions and abundances of mixotrophs and Kleptodinium in the Southern Ocean during austral spring/summer; and 4) the impacts of mixotrophs and Kleptodinium on prey populations, the factors influencing these behaviors and the physiological conditions of these groups in their natural environment. The project will contribute to the maintenance of a culture collection of heterotrophic, phototrophic and mixotrophic Antarctic protists that are available to the scientific community, and it will train graduate and undergraduate students at Temple University. Research findings and activities will be summarized for non-scientific audiences through the PIs' websites and through other public forums, and will involve middle school teachers via collaboration with COSEE-New England.
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