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Mechanisms shaping size structure and functional diversity of phytoplankton communities in the ocean
Acevedo-Trejos, E.; Brandt, G.; Bruggeman, J.; Merico, A. (2015). Mechanisms shaping size structure and functional diversity of phytoplankton communities in the ocean. NPG Scientific Reports 5(8918): 8 pp.
In: Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group). Nature Publishing Group: London. ISSN 2045-2322; e-ISSN 2045-2322, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Acevedo-Trejos, E.
  • Brandt, G.
  • Bruggeman, J.
  • Merico, A.

    The factors regulating phytoplankton community composition play a crucial role in structuring aquatic food webs. However, consensus is still lacking about the mechanisms underlying the observed biogeographical differences in cell size composition of phytoplankton communities. Here we use a trait-based model to disentangle these mechanisms in two contrasting regions of the Atlantic Ocean. In our model, the phytoplankton community can self-assemble based on a trade-off emerging from relationships between cell size and (1) nutrient uptake, (2) zooplankton grazing, and (3) phytoplankton sinking. Grazing ‘pushes’ the community towards larger cell sizes, whereas nutrient uptake and sinking ‘pull’ the community towards smaller cell sizes. We find that the stable environmental conditions of the tropics strongly balance these forces leading to persistently small cell sizes and reduced size diversity. In contrast, the seasonality of the temperate region causes the community to regularly reorganize via shifts in species composition and to exhibit, on average, bigger cell sizes and higher size diversity than in the tropics. Our results raise the importance of environmental variability as a key structuring mechanism of plankton communities in the ocean and call for a reassessment of the current understanding of phytoplankton diversity patterns across latitudinal gradients.

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