Bacterium-specific viruses have attracted much interest in aquatic microbial ecology because they have been shown to be about 10 times more abundant than planktonic bacteria. So far most of the studies of interactions of planktonic bacteria and viruses have been done in marine environments, and very little is known about these interactions in lakes. Therefore, we studied phage proliferation in Lake Constance, a large mesotrophic lake in Germany. We enumerated bacteria and quantified the fraction of bacteria with mature intracellular phage particles and the number of free viruses by transmission electron microscopy. Between the end of March and early August 1992, peaks of bacterial abundance were followed in 1 to 2 weeks by peaks in the fraction of bacteria containing visible phage particles (0 to 1.7%) and in the number of free viruses (1 x 10(sup7) to 4 x 10(sup7) ml(sup-1)). We estimated that 1 to 17% +/- 12% of all bacteria were phage infected, implying that phage-induced mortality was <34% +/- 24% of total mortality. A direct comparison between phage-induced mortality, the net decrease of bacterial numbers, and bacterial growth rates indicated that phage-induced mortality accounted for <11% of total bacterial mortality during the phytoplankton spring bloom and 18 to 21% following the bloom. Estimated burst sizes ranged from 21 to 121 phages. Phage production rates of 0.5 x 10(sup6) to 2.5 x 10(sup6) ml(sup-1) day(sup-1) accounted for 70 to 380% of the observed net increase rates of free phages, implying high rates of simultaneous phage decay. The cyclic dynamics between bacteria and phages and the varying size structure of the intracellular mature phage particles suggested that phage infection was important in structuring the bacterial host assemblage during the study period
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