Marine microbes exhibit highly varied, often non-spherical shapes that have functional significance for essential processes, including nutrient acquisition and sinking rates. There is a surprising absence of data, however, on how cell shape affects grazing, which is crucial for predicting the fate of oceanic carbon. We used synthetic spherical and prolate spheroid microbeads to isolate the effect of particle length-to-width ratios on grazing and fate in the ocean. Here we show that the shape of microbe-sized particles affects predation by the appendicularian Oikopleura dioica, a globally abundant marine grazer. Using incubation experiments, we demonstrate that shape affects how particles are retained in the house and that the minimum particle diameter is the key variable determining how particles are ingested. High-speed videography revealed the mechanism behind these results: microbe-sized spheroids oriented with the long axis parallel to fluid streamlines, matching the speed and tortuosity of spheres of equivalent width. Our results suggest that the minimum particle diameter determines how elongated prey interact with the feeding-filters of appendicularians, which may help to explain the prevalence of ellipsoidal cells in the ocean, since a cell’s increased surface-to-volume ratio does not always increase predation. We provide the first evidence that grazing by appendicularians can cause non-uniform export of different shaped particles, thereby influencing particle fate.
Conley, K. R., & Sutherland, K. R. (2017). Particle shape impacts export and fate in the ocean through interactions with the globally abundant appendicularian Oikopleura dioica. PLoS ONE, 12(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183105