MEPS - Vol. 379 - Feature article

False color SEM of cyanobacteria, Prochlorococcus spp. (left), and a fossil centric diatom, Actinoptychus spp. (right). Image: Anne W. Thompson (Prochlorococcus); Jim Ehrman, Zoe Finkel, Mount Allison Digital Microscopy Lab (Actinoptychus)

Verdy A, Follows M, Flierl G


Optimal phytoplankton cell size in an allometric model


The size of phytoplankton cells determines their ability to take up and store resources, produce organic matter, and contribute to the export of organic carbon to the deep ocean. By combining the observed size-dependence of nutrient uptake kinetics with an ecological model, Verdy and co-workers evaluated the relative fitness of small and large phytoplankton. Simulations show that increasing body size can be a successful strategy, even in the absence of temporal variability or predation, as larger cells can maintain a relatively greater internal store of nutrients, thus accelerating their growth. The model predicts optimal cell sizes ranging from <1 mm3 (the size of small cyanobacteria) to >100 mm3 (the size of small diatoms).


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