A Lagrangian model for drifting ecosystems reveals heterogeneity-driven enhancement of marine plankton blooms

Ser-Giacomi, Enrico; Martinez-Garcia, Ricardo; Dutkiewicz, Stephanie; Follows, Micheal J.
Nature Communication 14, 6092 (2023)

Marine plankton play a crucial role in carbon storage, global climate, and ecosystem function. Planktonic ecosystems are embedded in patches of water that are continuously moving, stretching, and diluting. These processes drive inhomegeneities on a range of scales, with implications for the integrated ecosystem properties, but are hard to characterize. We present a theoretical framework that accounts for all these aspects; tracking the water patch hosting a drifting ecosystem along with its physical, environmental, and biochemical features. The theory resolves patch dilution and internal physical mixing as a function of oceanic strain and diffusion. Ecological dynamics are para- meterized by an idealized nutrient and phytoplankton population and we specifically capture the time evolution of the biochemical spatial variances to represent within-patch heterogeneity. We find that, depending only on the physical processes to which the water patch is subjected, the plankton biomass response to a resource perturbation can vary in size up to six times. This work indicates that we must account for these processes when interpreting and modeling marine ecosystems and provides a framework with which to do so.

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