The influence of viscosity on the motility and sensory ability of the dinoflagellate Heterocapsa triquetra

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Seawater viscosity is influenced by temperature as well as through excretion of exopolymers by some plankton. We examined the role of viscosity on the movement patterns and sensory abilities of the dinoflagellate Heterocapsa triquetra, manipulating the viscosity of seawater to simulate a 10 + 1.58C temperature change. In a second treatment, we seeded the water with microbeads to examine swimming behaviours in the presence of a mechanical stimulus. Increased viscosity reduced distances between conspecifics 4.7-fold and increased distances between protists and microbeads by 3.4-fold. Increased viscosity also affected other aspects of motility, with an overall reduction in swimming speed of 2.0- and 7.0-fold for treatments with and without mechanical stimuli. Higher viscosities were associated with upward vertical migration, in both the presence and absence of microbeads. Cells were highly sensitive to disturbances to the velocity field, by as little as 1.5%, and different approach distances of H. triquetra to conspecifics over mechanical stimuli suggest sensory capacity to distinguish types of particles. Mediation of motility and migratory behaviours through viscosity implies ramifications for the distribution of protists and their encounters with resources, predators and conspecifics triggered by events such as temperature changes and phytoplankton bloom events.

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Journal of Plankton Research