Killing the killer: predation between protists and predatory bacteria
Predation by microbes is one of the main drivers of bacterial mortality in the environment. In most ecosystems multiple micropredators compete at least partially for the same bacterial resource. Predatory interactions between these micropredators might lead to shifts within microbial communities. Integrating these interactions is therefore crucial for the understanding of ecosystem functioning. In this study, we investigated the predation between two groups of micropredators, i.e. phagotrophic protists and Bdellovibrio and like organisms (BALOs). BALOs are obligate predators of Gram-negative bacteria. We hypothesised that protists can prey upon BALOs despite the small size and high swimming speed of the latter, which makes them potentially hard to capture. Predation experiments including three protists, i.e. one filter feeder and two interception feeder, showed that BALOs are a relevant prey for these protists. The growth rate on BALOs differed for the respective protists. The filter feeding ciliate was growing equally well on the BALOs and on Escherichia coli, whereas the two flagellate species grew less well on the BALOs compared to E. coli. However, BALOs might not be a favourable food source in resource-rich environments as they are not enabling all protists to grow as much as on bacteria of bigger volume.