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Barton, AD, Pershing AJ, Litchman E, Record NR, Edwards KF, Finkel ZV, Kiorboe T, Ward BA.  2013.  The biogeography of marine plankton traits. Ecol Lett. 16:522-34.   10.1111/ele.12063   Abstract

Changes in marine plankton communities driven by environmental variability impact the marine food web and global biogeochemical cycles of carbon and other elements. To predict and assess these community shifts and their consequences, ecologists are increasingly investigating how the functional traits of plankton determine their relative fitness along environmental and biological gradients. Laboratory, field and modelling studies are adopting this trait-based approach to map the biogeography of plankton traits that underlies variations in plankton communities. Here, we review progress towards understanding the regulatory roles of several key plankton functional traits, including cell size, N2 -fixation and mixotrophy among phytoplankton, and body size, ontogeny and feeding behaviour for zooplankton. The trait biogeographical approach sheds light on what structures plankton communities in the current ocean, as well as under climate change scenarios, and also allows for finer resolution of community function because community trait composition determines the rates of significant processes, including carbon export. Although understanding of trait biogeography is growing, uncertainties remain that stem, in part, from the paucity of observations describing plankton functional traits. Thus, in addition to recommending widespread adoption of the trait-based approach, we advocate for enhanced collection, standardisation and dissemination of plankton functional trait data.

Ward, BA, Dutkiewicz S, Barton AD, Follows MJ.  2011.  Biophysical aspects of resource acquisition and competition in algal mixotrophs. Am Nat. 178:98-112.   10.1086/660284   Abstract

Mixotrophic organisms combine autotrophic and heterotrophic nutrition and are abundant in both freshwater and marine environments. Recent observations indicate that mixotrophs constitute a large fraction of the biomass, bacterivory, and primary production in oligotrophic environments. While mixotrophy allows greater flexibility in terms of resource acquisition, any advantage must be traded off against an associated increase in metabolic costs, which appear to make mixotrophs uncompetitive relative to obligate autotrophs and heterotrophs. Using an idealized model of cell physiology and community competition, we identify one mechanism by which mixotrophs can effectively outcompete specialists for nutrient elements. At low resource concentrations, when the uptake of nutrients is limited by diffusion toward the cell, the investment in cell membrane transporters can be minimized. In this situation, mixotrophs can acquire limiting elements in both organic and inorganic forms, outcompeting their specialist competitors that can utilize only one of these forms. This advantage can be enough to offset as much as a twofold increase in additional metabolic costs incurred by mixotrophs. This mechanism is particularly relevant for the maintenance of mixotrophic populations and productivity in the highly oligotrophic subtropical oceans.