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Nature. 2002 Sep 12;419(6903):154-7.

Macroecological patterns of phytoplankton in the northwestern North Atlantic Ocean.

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Biological Oceanography Section, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B2Y 4A2, Canada.


Many issues in biological oceanography are regional or global in scope; however, there are not many data sets of extensive areal coverage for marine plankton. In microbial ecology, a fruitful approach to large-scale questions is comparative analysis wherein statistical data patterns are sought from different ecosystems, frequently assembled from unrelated studies. A more recent approach termed macroecology characterizes phenomena emerging from large numbers of biological units by emphasizing the shapes and boundaries of statistical distributions, because these reflect the constraints on variation. Here, I use a set of flow cytometric measurements to provide macroecological perspectives on North Atlantic phytoplankton communities. Distinct trends of abundance in picophytoplankton and both small and large nanophytoplankton underlaid two patterns. First, total abundance of the three groups was related to assemblage mean-cell size according to the 3/4 power law of allometric scaling in biology. Second, cytometric diversity (an ataxonomic measure of assemblage entropy) was maximal at intermediate levels of water column stratification. Here, intermediate disturbance shapes diversity through an equitable distribution of cells in size classes, from which arises a high overall biomass. By subsuming local fluctuations, macroecology reveals meaningful patterns of phytoplankton at large scales.

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