Behavioural differences underlie toxicity and predation variation in blooms of Prymnesium parvum

William W. Driscoll, Jennifer H. Wisecaver, Jeremiah D. Hackett, Noelle J. Espinosa, Jared Padway, Jessica E. Engers, Jessica A. Bower

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Much of the evolutionary ecology of toxic algal blooms (TABs) remains unclear, including the role of algal toxins in the adaptive ‘strategies’ of TAB-forming species. Most eukaryotic TABs are caused by mixotrophs that augment autotrophy with organic nutrient sources, including competing algae (intraguild predation). We leverage the standing diversity of TABs formed by the toxic, invasive mixotroph Prymnesium parvum to identify cell-level behaviours involved in toxin-assisted predation using direct observations as well as comparisons between genetically distinct low- and high-toxicity isolates. Our results suggest that P. parvum toxins are primarily delivered at close range and promote subsequent prey capture/consumption. Surprisingly, we find opposite chemotactic preferences for organic (prey-derived) and inorganic nutrients between differentially toxic isolates, respectively, suggesting behavioural integration of toxicity and phagotrophy. Variation in toxicity may, therefore, reflect broader phenotypic integration of key traits that ultimately contribute to the remarkable flexibility, diversity, and success of invasive populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)677-691
Number of pages15
JournalEcology letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • algal toxins
  • allelopathy
  • biological invasions
  • chemotaxis
  • collective behaviour
  • eco-evolutionary feedbacks
  • harmful algal bloom
  • intraguild predation
  • microbial cooperation
  • mixotrophy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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