Scaling-up from nutrient physiology to the size-structure of phytoplankton communities

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Abstract

In many community assemblages, the abundance of organisms is a power-law function of organism size. In phytoplankton communities, changes in size structure associated with increases in resource availability and total biomass have often been interpreted as a release from grazer control. A metapopulation-like approach is used to scale up from the individual physiological responses to environmental conditions to community size structure assuming the community taxonomic composition reflects the species pool. We show that the size scaling of cellular nutrient requirements and growth can cause (1) the power-law relationship between cell size and abundance, (2) dominance of small phytoplankton cells under oligotrophic conditions, and (3) relative increase in abundance of larger phytoplankton cells under eutrophic conditions. If physiological differences associated with the taxonomic composition of different community size fractions are considered, then the model can replicate detailed field observations such as the absence of small, slow-growing Prochlorococcus spp. and the relative dominance of large diatom species in nutrient-rich, upwelling regions of the ocean.

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