Adaptive Evolution of Phytoplankton Cell Size
Schofield, Oscar M. E.
Falkowski, Paul G.
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We present a simple nutrient‐phytoplankton‐zooplankton (NPZ) model that incorporates adaptive evolution and allometric relations to examine the patterns and consequences of adaptive changes in plankton body size. Assuming stable environmental conditions, the model makes the following predictions. First, phytoplankton should evolve toward small sizes typical of picoplankton. Second, in the absence of grazers, nutrient concentration is minimized as phytoplankton reach their fitness maximum. Third, increasing nutrient flux tends to increase phytoplankton cell size in the presence of phytoplankton‐zooplankton coevolution but has no effect in the absence of zooplankton. Fourth, phytoplankton reach their fitness maximum in the absence of grazers, and the evolutionary nutrient‐phytoplankton system has a stable equilibrium. In contrast, phytoplankton may approach their fitness minimum in the evolutionary NPZ system where phytoplankton and zooplankton are allowed to coevolve, which may result in oscillatory (unstable) dynamics of the evolutionary NPZ system, compared with the otherwise stable nonevolutionary NPZ system. These results suggest that evolutionary interactions between phytoplankton and zooplankton may have contributed to observed changes in phytoplankton sizes and associated biogeochemical cycles over geological time scales.