Surveys across the world oceans have shown that phytoplankton biomass and production are dominated by small cells (picoplankton) where nutrient concentrations are low, but large cells (microplankton) dominate when nutrient-rich deep water is mixed to the surface. I analyzed phytoplankton size structure in samples collected over 25 yr in San Francisco Bay, a nutrient-rich estuary. Biomass was dominated by large cells because their biomass selectively grew during blooms. Large-cell dominance appears to be a characteristic of ecosystems at the land–sea interface, and these places may therefore function as analogs to oceanic upwelling systems. Simulations with a size-structured NPZ model showed that runs of positive net growth rate persisted long enough for biomass of large, but not small, cells to accumulate. Model experiments showed that small cells would dominate in the absence of grazing, at lower nutrient concentrations, and at elevated (+5°C) temperatures. Underlying these results are two fundamental scaling laws: (1) large cells are grazed more slowly than small cells, and (2) grazing rate increases with temperature faster than growth rate. The model experiments suggest testable hypotheses about phytoplankton size structure at the land–sea interface: (1) anthropogenic nutrient enrichment increases cell size; (2) this response varies with temperature and only occurs at mid-high latitudes; (3) large-cell blooms can only develop when temperature is below a critical value, around 15°C; (4) cell size diminishes along temperature gradients from high to low latitudes; and (5) large-cell blooms will diminish or disappear where planetary warming increases temperature beyond their critical threshold.
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Why large cells dominate estuarine phytoplankton|
|Series title||Limnology and Oceanography|
|Publisher||Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography|
|Contributing office(s)||National Research Program - Western Branch|