Journal Article

The role of mixotrophy in plankton bloom dynamics, and the consequences for productivity

Astrid C. Hammer and Jonathan W. Pitchford

in ICES Journal of Marine Science

Published on behalf of ICES/CIEM

Volume 62, issue 5, pages 833-840
Published in print January 2005 | ISSN: 1054-3139
Published online January 2005 | e-ISSN: 1095-9289 | DOI:
The role of mixotrophy in plankton bloom dynamics, and the consequences for productivity

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  • Environmental Science
  • Marine and Estuarine Biology


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Mixotrophy (=heterotrophy and photosynthesis by a single individual) is a common phenomenon in aquatic ecosystems, in particular under light- or nutrient-limitation. However, it is not usually considered in mathematical models of biological populations. This paper shows how different types of mixotrophy might be usefully incorporated into a general predator–prey model, and explores the consequences for plankton bloom dynamics and productivity. It is demonstrated, analytically and numerically, that even small levels of type III mixotrophy (a small fraction of the zooplankton also being involved in primary production) have significant effects on a system's equilibrium structure, stability, and short-term dynamics. Type III mixotrophy has a stabilizing effect on the system by reducing its excitability, i.e. its propensity to exhibit blooms. Compared with the non-mixotrophic benchmark, for a phytoplankton bloom to be triggered in a system with type III mixotrophy, a much larger perturbation is necessary. Type II mixotrophy (a small fraction of algae engage in phagotrophy) and type I mixotrophy (equal phagotrophy and phototrophy) are briefly discussed. The potential consequences for productivity are also studied. Our results indicate that the phytoplankton–zooplankton system becomes more productive in the presence of type III mixotrophy.

Keywords: excitable phytoplankton–zooplankton system; mixotrophy; plankton bloom

Journal Article.  4997 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental Science ; Marine and Estuarine Biology

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