Ward, J.N., Pond, D.W. and Murray, J.W.
Feeding of benthic foraminifera on diatoms and sewage-derived organic matter: an experimental application of lipid biomarker techniques
Marine Environmental Research, 56, (4), . (doi:10.1016/S0141-1136(03)00040-0).
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Foraminiferal ecology at sewage outfalls has been investigated in numerous field studies over the last 30 years. Foraminifera have been frequently used as biomonitors of sewage pollution since they are both abundant and ubiquitous. Sewage outfalls have been demonstrated to have both positive and negative effects on adjacent foraminiferal populations, but it has never been shown conclusively why sewage affects foraminifera in these ways. Such information on the impact mechanisms of sewage pollution is essential if foraminifera are to be used as sewage pollution biomonitors, and also to understand the ecology of these important protists. One possible cause of a positive effect is the direct consumption of sewage-derived particulate organic matter (POM) by the foraminifera themselves. However this hypothesis has never been tested experimentally. Here, lipid (fatty acid and sterol) biomarker techniques were applied to study the ingestion of two potential food items by the foraminiferan Haynesina germanica in the laboratory. An experiment was conducted to confirm that the laboratory conditions were conducive to the survival and feeding of the foraminifera. In this experiment, foraminifera were provided with the pennate diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum, which was considered to be a suitable food source. After 2 weeks, a four-fold increase in the levels of the diatom fatty acid biomarker, 20:5(n-3), in the foraminifera suggested that they had fed actively on the diatoms and survived under the experimental conditions. These experimental conditions were used in the main experiment, where foraminifera were fed the POM from sewage. Lipid biomarker analysis indicated that H. germanica did not consume secondary treated sewage-derived POM. Neither fatty acid profiles in the sewage nor coprostanol, the diagnostic human faecal sterol, were detected in foraminifera after exposure to the potential sewage food source. However, foraminifera may have consumed bacteria associated with the sewage in the experiment. The findings are discussed in terms of current EU legislation on sewage treatment that has affected the composition of sewage discharges, and therefore possibly reduced the nutritive value of sewage to the marine benthos.
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