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Copepod growth and diatoms: insensitivity of Acartia tonsa to the composition of semi-natural plankton mixtures manipulated by silicon:nitrogen ratios in mesocosms

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The feeding selectivity and the growth and reproductive success of the copepod Acartia tonsa have been studied in mesocosms fertilized at different Si:N ratios (0-1.75:1) and, therefore, at different compositions of the phytoplankton communities. Phytoplankton composition showed a strong response to nutrient ratios, with diatoms comprising > 90% at Si:N ratios > 1:1 of total biomass as opposed to < 20% at the lowest ratio. A. tonsa strongly preferred feeding on motile prey (flagellates and ciliates) to feeding on diatoms. Nevertheless, diatoms comprised a substantial part of the diet at the highest Si:N ratios. A. tonsa egg production and the final (after 4 weeks) abundance of adults and copepodites showed no response to Si:N ratios while nauplii production slightly increased with Si:N ratios. It is concluded that the frequently reported deleterious effect of diatoms on copepod reproduction is rather unusual when copepods are confronted with a naturally diverse phytoplankton assemblage instead of clonal cultures in the laboratory.

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