Research ArticleECOLOGY

Global pattern of phytoplankton diversity driven by temperature and environmental variability

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Science Advances  15 May 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 5, eaau6253
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau6253


Despite their importance to ocean productivity, global patterns of marine phytoplankton diversity remain poorly characterized. Although temperature is considered a key driver of general marine biodiversity, its specific role in phytoplankton diversity has remained unclear. We determined monthly phytoplankton species richness by using niche modeling and >540,000 global phytoplankton observations to predict biogeographic patterns of 536 phytoplankton species. Consistent with metabolic theory, phytoplankton richness in the tropics is about three times that in higher latitudes, with temperature being the most important driver. However, below 19°C, richness is lower than expected, with ~8°– 14°C waters (~35° to 60° latitude) showing the greatest divergence from theoretical predictions. Regions of reduced richness are characterized by maximal species turnover and environmental variability, suggesting that the latter reduces species richness directly, or through enhancing competitive exclusion. The nonmonotonic relationship between phytoplankton richness and temperature suggests unanticipated complexity in responses of marine biodiversity to ocean warming.

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