Invariant scaling of phytoplankton abundance and cell size in contrasting marine environments


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Scaling relationships such as the variation of population abundance with body size provide links between individual organisms and ecosystem functioning. Previous work, in marine pelagic ecosystems, has focused on the relationship between total phytoplankton abundance and the assemblage mean cell size. However, the relationship between specific population abundance and cell size in marine phytoplankton has received little attention. Here, we show that cell size accounts for a significant amount of variability in the population abundance of phytoplankton species across a cell volume range spanning seven orders of magnitude. The interspecific scaling of population abundance and cell size takes a power exponent near −3/4. Unexpectedly, despite the constraints imposed on large phytoplankton by limited resource acquisition, the size scaling exponent does not differ between contrasting marine environments such as coastal and subtropical regions. These findings highlight the adaptive abilities of individual species to cope with different environmental conditions and suggest that a general rule such as the ‘energetic equivalence’ constrains the abundance of phytoplankton populations in marine pelagic ecosystems.