Scientific article
Open access

Temperature, resources and predation interact to shape phytoplankton size–abundance relationships at a continental scale

Published inGlobal ecology and biogeography, vol. 32, no. 11, p. 2006-2016
Publication date2023-08-25
First online date2023-08-25

Aim: Communities contain more individuals of small species and fewer individuals of large species. According to the ‘metabolic theory of ecology’, the relationship of log mean abundance with log mean body size across communities should exhibit a slope of −3/4 that is invariant across environmental conditions. Here, we investigate whether this slope is indeed invariant or changes systematically across gradients in temperature, resource availability and predation pressure.


1048 lakes across the USA.

Time Period


Major Taxa Studied



We found that the size–abundance relationship across all sampled phytoplankton communities was significantly lower than −3/4 and near −1 overall. More importantly, we found strong evidence that the environment affects the slope: it varies between −0.33 and −0.93 across interacting gradients of temperature, resource (phosphorus) supply and zooplankton predation pressure. Therefore, phytoplankton communities have orders of magnitude more small or large cells depending on environmental conditions across geographical locations.


Our results emphasise the importance of the environmental factors' effect on macroecological patterns that arise through physiological and ecological processes. An investigation of the mechanisms underlying the link between individual energetics constrain and macroecological patterns would allow to predict how global warming and changes in nutrients will alter large‐scale ecological patterns in the future.

Research group
  • National Science Foundation - Collaborative Research: MSA: The influence of temperature and resource supply on community size spectra in streams [2106067]
Citation (ISO format)
GJONI, Vojsava et al. Temperature, resources and predation interact to shape phytoplankton size–abundance relationships at a continental scale. In: Global ecology and biogeography, 2023, vol. 32, n° 11, p. 2006–2016. doi: 10.1111/geb.13748
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal1466-822X

Technical informations

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