Regulation of the relationship between phytoplankton Scenedesmus acutus and heterotrophic bacteria by the balance of light and nutrients

Tek Bahadur Gurung, Jotaro Urabe, Masami Nakanishi

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Culture experiments were conducted with the alga Scenedesmus acutus and heterotrophic bacteria to examine if the nature of their relationship changes according to the balance of light and nutrient supplies. Mixtures of algae and bacteria were grown in various combinations of 6 light intensities and 4 phosphorus (P) concentrations at high N:P ratio (80:1). We used an artificial medium composed of inorganic nutrients so that bacteria relied on organic matter released by algae as carbon (C) source. Every 2 d, 25% of the culture suspension was replaced by fresh medium. At the end of incubation when both bacterial and algal densities were stabilized, bacteria were separated from algae. Bioassays with glucose and/or inorganic P enrichment were then performed to assess the extent to which bacterial growth rate was limited by organic C or inorganic P. The algal density in the semibatch culture was low under the light intensity <55 μE m-2 s-1 regardless of P concentrations, while it was higher at higher light and P supply rate above that light intensity. The bacterial density was higher in the cultures where algal density was higher. The bioassay revealed that bacteria were C limited at the light intensity <55 μEm-2 s-1, indicating a commensal relationship between algae and bacteria. Above that light intensity, bacteria suffered from deficiency of organic carbon rather than P at lowest P supply rate, because of low algal biomass due to a shortage in P supply. At moderate P supply rates and light intensities ≥55 μE m-2 s-1, however, bacterial growth was limited by P rather than organic C, because supply of organic C from algae exceeded P supply relative to bacterial demand. Further increase in P supply released both algae and bacteria from P limitation. Thus, competitive interaction for P was most intense at a moderate P supply rate. These results demonstrate that there is a shift between commensalism for C and competition for P depending on light intensity and nutrient supply rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-35
Number of pages9
JournalAquatic Microbial Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999 Apr 30


  • Bacteria versus algae
  • Commensalism
  • Competition
  • Light:nutrient limitation


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