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Sheldon Spectrum and the Plankton Paradox: Two Sides of the Same Coin: A trait-based plankton size-spectrum model

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Mathematical Biology
DateAccepted/In press - 26 Apr 2017
DatePublished (current) - 25 May 2017
Issue number1-2
Number of pages30
Pages (from-to)67-96
Original languageEnglish


The Sheldon spectrum describes a remarkable regularity in aquatic ecosystems: the biomass density as a function of logarithmic body mass is approximately constant over many orders of magnitude. While size-spectrum models have explained this phenomenon for assemblages of multicellular organisms, this paper introduces a species-resolved size-spectrum model to explain the phenomenon in unicellular plankton. A Sheldon spectrum spanning the cell-size range of unicellular plankton necessarily consists of a large number of coexisting species covering a wide range of characteristic sizes. The coexistence of many phytoplankton species feeding on a small number of resources is known as the Paradox of the Plankton. Our model resolves the paradox by showing that coexistence is facilitated by the allometric scaling of four physiological rates. Two of the allometries have empirical support, the remaining two emerge from predator-prey interactions exactly when the abundances follow a Sheldon spectrum. Our plankton model is a scale-invariant trait-based size-spectrum model: it describes the abundance of phyto- and zooplankton cells as a function of both size and species trait (the maximal size before cell division). It incorporates growth due to resource consumption and predation on smaller cells, death due to predation, and a flexible cell division process. We give analytic solutions at steady state for both the within-species size distributions and the relative abundances across species.

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© The Author(s) 2017. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details

    Research areas

  • Allometry, Cell division, Coexistence, Plankton, Scale-invariance, Size-spectrum



    Project: Research project (funded)Research

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