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Mix and match: how climate selects phytoplankton

An Erratum to this article was published on 01 December 2007

Abstract

Climate strongly influences the distribution and diversity of animals and plants, but its affect on microbial communities is poorly understood. By using resource competition theory, fundamental physical principles and the fossil record we review how climate selects marine eukaryotic phytoplankton taxa. We suggest that climate determines the equator-to-pole and continent-to-land thermal gradients that provide energy for the wind-driven turbulent mixing in the upper ocean. This mixing, in turn, controls the nutrient fluxes that determine cell size and taxa-level distributions. Understanding this chain of linked processes will allow informed predictions to be made about how phytoplankton communities will change in the future.

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Figure 1: Micrographs of representative eukaryotic phytoplankton taxa from the Phanaerozoic period.
Figure 2: A cartoon of the biological pump.
Figure 3: An idealized diagram of the nutrient concentration and the flow field that immediately surrounds a cell.
Figure 4: A colour satellite image of a diatom bloom off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada.
Figure 5: Changes in ocean thermal structure and the size of diatoms in the Cenozoic period.

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Acknowledgements

The authors' work on this topic was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant number OCE 0241023 PGF) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (grant number 05-TEB/05-33 MJO and PGF).

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Correspondence to Paul G. Falkowski.

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Glossary

Aeolian

The continentally derived nutrient input that is transported by the wind.

Ma

(Mega-annum). A unit of time that is equal to 1 million (106) years.

Oligotrophic

An aquatic environment that has low levels of nutrient and algal photosynthetic production (for example, high mountain lakes or the open ocean).

Primary producer

An organism that is the original source of organic material in an ecosystem — plants, algae or chemosynthetic microorganisms.

Riverine

The continentally derived nutrient input that is transported by rivers and streams.

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Falkowski, P., Oliver, M. Mix and match: how climate selects phytoplankton. Nat Rev Microbiol 5, 813–819 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrmicro1751

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