Phytoplankton nutrient competition under dynamic light regimes

Litchman, Elena, Christopher A. Klausmeier, Peter Bossard

Limnol. Oceanogr., 49(4_part_2), 2004, 1457-1462 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2004.49.4_part_2.1457

ABSTRACT: Many physiological processes in phytoplankton, including nutrient uptake, vary on a number of temporal scales. Experiments show that the daily cycle in irradiance affects nutrient uptake rates. We used a Droop-based model of resource competition to investigate how diel variability in nutrient uptake influences phytoplankton competition and community structure. The analytical approximation we derive shows that if nutrient uptake is light dependent, the minimum nutrient requirements and, hence, nutrient competitive abilities depend on light regime in a species-specific way. Consequently, daily variations in irradiance may slow rates of competitive exclusion or reverse the identity of the superior competitor but not allow stable coexistence. Irradiance-induced fluctuations in the maximum nutrient uptake rate of the superior competitor can lead to fluctuations in ambient nutrient concentration and an increase in the average nutrient concentration compared to constant light conditions. This can enhance nutrient use by inferior competitors. These results may be applicable to bacteria-phytoplankton nutrient competition as well. Depending on the costs and benefits of maintaining nutrient uptake in the dark, different strategies of nutrient use are optimal under different light regimes. Our results suggest that by mediating limiting nutrient use, fluctuations in irradiance may alter the structure of phytoplankton communities.

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