Eukaryotic microalgae and prokaryotic cyanobacteria are globally the most important primary producers, forming the base of food web in aquatic ecosystems. As such, they are eaten by a huge diversity of protistan taxa (e.g., amoeba, flagellates and ciliates), as well as zooplanktonic and larger metazoan grazers. As in terrestrial agriculture, grazing has the potential to devastate the microalgal “crop” and this has obvious implications to the commercial success of the developing microalgal industry. Whilst in conventional agriculture thousands of years of exploitation of a relatively small number of crop plants, has resulted in tools, knowledge and strategies that can manage this issue, in the case of microalgal mass culture this is relatively undeveloped.
This review explores our current understanding of the issue and where further research is needed, focusing on the diversity of grazers and how microalgae under various environmental regimes and culture conditions avoid being annihilated. In addition, the implications of algal mass culture, where the objective is to maintain a virtual monoculture, are discussed in the context of how infection could be prevented/minimised and if infection occurs, how this may be managed to prevent excessive losses in productivity or quality of the algal crop. The ultimate objective would be the development of robust methodologies for the early detection of “infection” of microalgal mass-cultures. This would allow the timely implementation of best management practices to prevent/reduce, damage caused by grazing.
In reality, whilst there will be areas of commonality, as in terrestrial agricultural crops, methods will be need to be specifically tailored for each algal taxon, cultivation system and location.