• Allometry;
  • energetic equivalence;
  • marine phytoplankton;
  • metabolic scaling theory;
  • population abundance;
  • terrestrial plants

A primary goal of macroecology is to identify principles that apply across varied ecosystems and taxonomic groups. Here we show that the allometric relationship observed between maximum abundance and body size for terrestrial plants can be extended to predict maximum population densities of marine phytoplankton. These results imply that the abundance of primary producers is similarly constrained in terrestrial and marine systems by rates of energy supply as dictated by a common allometric scaling law. They also highlight the existence of general mechanisms linking rates of individual metabolism to emergent properties of ecosystems.