A guide to methods for estimating phago-mixotrophy in nanophytoplankton
Oxford University Press
Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research
Funding information available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/plankt/fbz008
Growing attention to phytoplankton mixotrophy as a trophic strategy has led to significant revisions of traditional pelagic food web models and ecosystem functioning. Although some empirical estimates of mixotrophy do exist, a much broader set of in situ measurements are required to (i) identify which organisms are acting as mixotrophs in real time and to (ii) assess the contribution of their heterotrophy to biogeochemical cycling. Estimates are needed through time and across space to evaluate which environmental conditions or habitats favour mixotrophy: conditions still largely unknown. We review methodologies currently available to plankton ecologists to undertake estimates of plankton mixotrophy, in particular nanophytoplankton phago-mixotrophy. Methods are based largely on fluorescent or isotopic tracers, but also take advantage of genomics to identify phylotypes and function. We also suggest novel methods on the cusp of use for phago-mixotrophy assessment, including single-cell measurements improving our capacity to estimate mixotrophic activity and rates in wild plankton communities down to the single-cell level. Future methods will benefit from advances in nanotechnology, micromanipulation and microscopy combined with stable isotope and genomic methodologies. Improved estimates of mixotrophy will enable more reliable models to predict changes in food web structure and biogeochemical flows in a rapidly changing world.