Summary 1. This study focused on heterotrophic microorganisms in the two main basins (north and south) of Lake Tanganyika during dry and wet seasons in 2002. Bacteria (81% cocci) were abundant (2.28-5.30 x 106 cells mL-1). During the dry season, in the south basin, bacterial biomass reached a maximum of 2.27 g C m-2 and phytoplankton biomass was 3.75 g C m-2 (integrated over a water column of 100 m). 2. Protozoan abundance was constituted of 99% of heterotrophic nanoflagellates (HNF). Communities of flagellates and bacteria consisted of very small but numerous cells. Flagellates were often the main planktonic compartment, with a biomass of 3.42-4.43 g C m-2. Flagellate biomass was in the same range and often higher than the total autotrophic biomass (1.60-4.72 g C m-2). 3. Total autotrophic carbon was partly sustained by the endosymbiotic zoochlorellae Strombidium. These ciliates were present only in the euphotic zone and usually contributed most of the biomass of ciliates. 4. Total heterotrophic ciliate biomass ranged between 0.35 and 0.44 g C m-2. In 2002, heterotrophic microorganisms consisting of bacteria, flagellates and ciliates represented a large fraction of plankton. These results support the hypothesis that the microbial food web contributes to the high productivity of Lake Tanganyika. 5. As the sole source of carbon in the pelagic zone of this large lake is phytoplankton production, planktonic heterotrophs ultimately depend on autochthonous organic carbon, most probably dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from algal excretion.
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