The paradox of the plankton: Investigating the effect of inter-species competition of phytoplankton and its sensitivity to nutrient supply and external forcing

Kenitz, Katarzyna
The paradox of the plankton: Investigating the effect of inter-species competition of phytoplankton and its sensitivity to nutrient supply and external forcing. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Hutchinson (1961) first posed the paradox of the plankton: Why do so many phytoplankton species coexist while competing for a limited number of resources? High biodiversity has been explained in terms of the phytoplankton system not reaching an equilibrium state. Spatial and temporal variability can be achieved through externally imposed physical variability or internally-induced behaviour including periodic oscillations or irregular, chaotic behaviour. The research presented in this thesis investigates whether the non-equilibrium, chaotic response of the phytoplankton community is a likely outcome within the aquatic ecosystems. The thesis addresses the extent that chaotic behaviour remains a robust response with externally-imposed environmental variability. The sparsity of long-term time-series data and infrequent sampling inhibits the ability to verify whether marine ecosystems exhibit complex behaviour. The analysis of the time-series records of phytoplankton taxa in the English Channel suggests that chaos might occur within diatom and dinoflagellates abundance time series. However, simulations using a chemostat model for phytoplankton and nutrients suggests that time series sampled every 1-2 days for more than 5 years are required to confidently distinguish deterministic chaos from noise. The model simulations suggest that the community response depends on the phytoplankton requirement for nutrients and attributed physiological traits allowing each species to be a stronger competitor for a different resource. A wider inter-species specialization increases the likelihood of oscillatory and chaotic responses, with competitive exclusion decreasing from 50% to 20% of the cases. Higher departures from the Redfield ratio in the elemental composition of species favour complex community behaviour and act to increase biodiversity. Whether chaotic response can be sustained is sensitive to the strength of the diffusive feedback between nutrient supply and ambient nutrient concentration that acts to sustain steady-state nutrient concentrations. Including seasonal and stochastic variability in the nutrient supply reveals that the frequency of chaotic dynamics increases by 20% and 45% respectively. In addition, seasonal forcing leads to temporal variability in the strength of the chaotic response, with chaos becoming more prevalent in the summer. In contrast to a well-mixed, homogeneous environment, physical dispersal can stir different phytoplankton communities together, which might act to inhibit chaos, but at the same time enhance phytoplankton diversity. Idealised model simulations are conducted to mimic the small and large scale transport processes by including 2 or 3 well-mixed boxes. Locally generated chaotic response is sustained if: 1) there is a low rate of exchange with a strong nutrient competitor that maintains the contrasts in the community structure; 2) a strong competitor is inhibited by a high mortality rate. In addition, if the local community is outcompeted, chaos can be exported through the advection of stronger competitors that exhibit chaotic fluctuations. This study highlights the importance of understanding the interactions between ambient nutrients and phytoplankton community. The variability in the nutrient supply and connectivity between ecosystems shape the community response to inter-species competition. Complex behaviour arising from inter-species competition is suggested to have a significant contribution in driving biodiversity. Future research on assessing the extent of chaos requires extending and analysing the available time-series data obtained from stable or isolated marine provinces.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Date: 2014-12 (completed)
Subjects: ?? Q1 ??
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 29 Jul 2015 09:40
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2022 01:33
DOI: 10.17638/02003779