Predatory protozoa are known to enhance biodegradation by bacteria in a variety of systems including rumen. This is apparently counterintuitive since many protozoa do not themselves produce extracellular degradative enzymes and prey upon bacterial degraders. We propose a mechanism of protozoal enhancement of bacterial biodegradation based on the sociobiology of biodegradation. Since extracellular enzyme production by degraders involves a cost to the bacterial cell, cheaters that do not make the enzyme will have a selective advantage. In the presence of cheaters, degraders that physically attach to water-insoluble substrate will have a selective advantage over free-floating degraders. On the other hand, cheaters will benefit by being free floaters since they consume the solubilized products of extracellular enzymes. Predatory ciliated protozoa are more likely to consume free-floating cheaters. Thus, due to protozoan predation a control is exerted on the cheater population. We illustrate the dynamics of such a system with the help of a computer simulation model. Available data on rumen and other biodegradation systems involving protozoa are compatible with the assumptions and predictions of the model.
Volume 48, 2023
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