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Helgoland Marine Research

Open Access

Gyrodinium undulans Hulburt, a marine dinoflagellate feeding on the bloom-forming diatomOdontella aurita, and on copepod and rotifer eggs

  • G. Drebes1 and
  • E. Schnepf2
Helgoländer Meeresuntersuchungen52:BF02908731


The marine dinoflagellateGyrodinium undulans was discovered as a feeder on the planktonic diatomOdontella aurita. Every year, during winter and early spring, a certain percentage of cells of this bloom-forming diatom, in the Wadden Sea along the North Sea coast, was regularly found affected by the flagellate. Supplied with the food diatomO. aurita the dinoflagellate could be maintained successfully in clonal culture. The vegetative life cylce was studied, mainly by light microscopy on live material, with special regard to the mode of food uptake. Food is taken up by a so-called phagopod, emerging from the antapex of the flagellate. Only fluid or tiny prey material could be transported through the phagopod. Larger organelles like the chloroplasts ofOdontella are not ingested and are left behind in the diatom cell. Thereafter, the detached dinoflagellate reproduces by cell division, occasionally followed by a second division. As yet, stages of sexual reproduction and possible formation of resting cysts could not be recognized, neither from wild material nor from laboratory cultures. Palmelloid stages (sometimes with a delicate wall) occurring in ageing cultures may at least partly function as temporary resting stages. The winter speciesG. undulans strongly resemblesSyltodinium listii, a summer species feeding on copepod and rotifer eggs. Surprisingly, in a few cases this prey material was accepted byG. undulans as well, at least under culture conditions. When fed with copepod eggs, the dinoflagellate developed into a large trophont, giving rise thereafter by repeated binary fission to 4, 8 or 16 flagellates, as a result of a single feeding act. A re-examination of both species under simultaneous culture conditions is planned.


DinoflagellateGerman BightDiatom CellFood VacuoleHeterotrophic Dinoflagellate