“The implications of eco-evolutionary processes for the emergence of marine plankton community biogeography”

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Boris Sauterey, Ben Ward, Jonathan Rault, Chris Bowler, and David Claessen

Modeling the emergent plankton biogeography as a result of local eco-evolutionary processes and spatial dynamics

Satellite image from the visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP NASA satellite illustrating a phytoplankton bloom in the North-Atlantic. The ocean is artificially “colored’ by plankton communities, detected using remote sensing of water reflectance. This image shows nicely the interaction between ocean biology and physics.
(Credit: Norman Kuring, NASA)

Phytoplankton are oceans’ primary producers and thus play a critical role in the carbon cycle, forming the base of marine food webs and producing roughly half of the world’s oxygen. These ecological services rendered by marine plankton communities depend on their species composition and diversity, yet the processes underlying how plankton communities assemble remain poorly understood.

Dr. Sauterey and his colleagues have developed a model of marine plankton metacommunity dynamics to examine how ecological, evolutionary, and spatial dynamics (i.e., resulting from ocean circulation) interact to influence the process of community assembly. Their results suggest that, while the predator-prey interactions tend to locally drive the emergence of diversity via an eco-evolutionary process, abiotic conditions (typically resource availability) act as a limiting factor for this diversification process. By modifying local competitive processes and abiotic conditions, ocean circulation can completely alter the outcome of the local process of community assembly. For instance, local plankton communities, when connected by water currents, might exhibit similarities in their size composition due to a shared eco-evolutionary history. Such sets of interacting communities then form coherent biogeographical units, referred to by Sauterey et al. as eco-evolutionary provinces.

Sauterey et al. suggest that such biogeographical units might be key to better understanding both the past and future feedbacks between marine plankton communities and global environmental changes. Read the Article