Ingestion of pico- and nanoplankton by the Mediterranean red coralCorallium rubrum

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This study investigates the feeding behaviour of the precious red coral Corallium rubrum on bacterioplankton. The effects of flow rate, prey concentration, and seawater temperature were tested. The results obtained show that C. rubrum was able to prey on both pico- and nanoplankton cells. Flagellates constituted the major bacterioplankton food source in terms of carbon and nitrogen, representing from 43 to 70% of the C and N ingested. Flow speed (2, 6, and 11 cm s-1) had no effect on grazing rates, maybe due to the small size of the ingested particles. Conversely, feeding rates increased with prey concentration and seawater temperature. There was a doubling of the picoplankton ingestion rate for a sixfold increase in its concentration. The ingestion of autotrophic flagellates, however, increased at the same time as their concentration, indicating a preference for this type of food. Considering the range of concentrations typically found in the Ligurian Sea, the ingestion of pico- and nanoplankton brings 148 ng C polyp-1 day-1 and 28 ng N polyp-1 day-1. This type of food represents only ca. 4.5% of the total carbon gained by C. rubrum from the different sources, but might be the most important in terms of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other essential elements.

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