Ecological specialization of mixotrophic plankton in a mixed water column

Troost, T. A., Kooi, B. W. and Kooijman, S. A. L. M. 2005 Ecological specialization of mixotrophic plankton in a mixed water column. Am. Nat, 166: E45 - E61


In recent years, the population dynamics of plankton in light- or nutrient-limited environments have been studied extensively. Their evolutionary dynamics, however, have received much less attention. Here, we used a modeling approach to study the evolutionary behavior of a population of plankton living in a mixed water column. Initially, the organisms are mixotrophic and thus have both autotrophic and heterotrophic abilities. Through evolution of their trophic preferences, however, they can specialize into separate autotrophs and heterotrophs. It was found that the light intensity gradient enables evolutionary branching and thus may result in the ecological specialization of the mixotrophs. By affecting the gradient, other environmental properties also acquire influence on this evolutionary process. Intermediate mixing intensities, large mixing depths, and high nutrient densities were found to facilitate evolutionary branching and thus specialization. Later results may explain why mixotrophs are often more dominant in oligotrophic systems while specialist strategies are associated with eutrophic systems.

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