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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 19;110(12):4646-50. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1301552110. Epub 2013 Mar 4.

Scaling body size fluctuations.

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Laboratory of Ecohydrology, School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


The size of an organism matters for its metabolic, growth, mortality, and other vital rates. Scale-free community size spectra (i.e., size distributions regardless of species) are routinely observed in natural ecosystems and are the product of intra- and interspecies regulation of the relative abundance of organisms of different sizes. Intra- and interspecies distributions of body sizes are thus major determinants of ecosystems' structure and function. We show experimentally that single-species mass distributions of unicellular eukaryotes covering different phyla exhibit both characteristic sizes and universal features over more than four orders of magnitude in mass. Remarkably, we find that the mean size of a species is sufficient to characterize its size distribution fully and that the latter has a universal form across all species. We show that an analytical physiological model accounts for the observed universality, which can be synthesized in a log-normal form for the intraspecies size distributions. We also propose how ecological and physiological processes should interact to produce scale-invariant community size spectra and discuss the implications of our results on allometric scaling laws involving body mass.

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