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  1. Veach, Allison (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT There is considerable debate about the benefits and trade-offs for colony formation in a major marine nitrogen fixer, Trichodesmium . To quantitatively analyze the trade-offs, we developed a metabolic model based on carbon fluxes to compare the performance of Trichodesmium colonies and free trichomes under different scenarios. Despite reported reductions in carbon fixation and nitrogen fixation rates for colonies relative to free trichomes, we found that model colonies can outperform individual cells in several cases. The formation of colonies can be advantageous when respiration rates account for a high proportion of the carbon fixation rate. Negative external influence on vital rates, such as mortality due to predation or micronutrient limitations, can also create a net benefit for colony formation relative to individual cells. In contrast, free trichomes also outcompete colonies in many scenarios, such as when respiration rates are equal for both colonies and individual cells or when there is a net positive external influence on rate processes (i.e., optimal environmental conditions regarding light and temperature or high nutrient availability). For both colonies and free trichomes, an increase in carbon fixation relative to nitrogen fixation rates would increase their relative competitiveness. These findings suggest that the formation of colonies in Trichodesmium might be linked to specific environmental and ecological circumstances. Our results provide a road map for empirical studies and models to evaluate the conditions under which colony formation in marine phytoplankton can be sustained in the natural environment. IMPORTANCE Trichodesmium is a marine filamentous cyanobacterium that fixes nitrogen and is an important contributor to the global nitrogen cycle. In the natural environment, Trichodesmium can exist as individual cells (trichomes) or as colonies (puffs and tufts). In this paper, we try to answer a longstanding question in marine microbial ecology: how does colony formation benefit the survival of Trichodesmium ? To answer this question, we developed a carbon flux model that utilizes existing published rates to evaluate whether and when colony formation can be sustained. Enhanced respiration rates, influential external factors such as environmental conditions and ecological interactions, and variable carbon and nitrogen fixation rates can all create scenarios for colony formation to be a viable strategy. Our results show that colony formation is an ecologically beneficial strategy under specific conditions, enabling Trichodesmium to be a globally significant organism. 
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  2. Abstract The proportion of major elements in marine organic matter links cellular processes to global nutrient, oxygen and carbon cycles. Differences in the C:N:P ratios of organic matter have been observed between ocean biomes, but these patterns have yet to be quantified from the underlying small-scale physiological and ecological processes. Here we use an ecosystem model that includes adaptive resource allocation within and between ecologically distinct plankton size classes to attribute the causes of global patterns in the C:N:P ratios. We find that patterns of N:C variation are largely driven by common physiological adjustment strategies across all phytoplankton, while patterns of N:P are driven by ecological selection for taxonomic groups with different phosphorus storage capacities. Although N:C varies widely due to cellular adjustment to light and nutrients, its latitudinal gradient is modest because of depth-dependent trade-offs between nutrient and light availability. Strong latitudinal variation in N:P reflects an ecological balance favouring small plankton with lower P storage capacity in the subtropics, and larger eukaryotes with a higher cellular P storage capacity in nutrient-rich high latitudes. A weaker N:P difference between southern and northern hemispheres, and between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, reflects differences in phosphate available for cellular storage. Despite simulating only two phytoplankton size classes, the emergent global variability of elemental ratios resembles that of all measured species, suggesting that the range of growth conditions and ecological selection sustain the observed diversity of stoichiometry among phytoplankton. 
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  3. Diatom–diazotroph associations (DDAs) are one of the most important symbiotic dinitrogen (N2) fixing groups in the oligotrophic ocean. Despite their capability to fix N2, ammonium (NH4+) remains a key nitrogen (N) source for DDAs, and the effect of NH4+ on their metabolism remains elusive. Here, we developed a coarse-grained, cellular model of the DDA with NH4+ uptake and quantified how the level of extracellular NH4+ influences metabolism and nutrient exchange within the symbiosis. The model shows that, under a fixed growth rate, an increased NH4+ concentration may lower the required level of N2 fixation and photosynthesis, and decrease carbon (C) and N exchange. A low-NH4+ environment leads to more C and N in nutrient exchange and more fixed N2 to support a higher growth rate. With higher growth rates, nutrient exchange and metabolism increased. Our study shows a strong effect of NH4+ on metabolic processes within DDAs, and thus highlights the importance of in situ measurement of NH4+ concentrations. 
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  4. Rising temperatures are associated with reduced body size in many marine species, but the biological cause and generality of the phenomenon is debated. We derive a predictive model for body size responses to temperature and oxygen (O 2 ) changes based on thermal and geometric constraints on organismal O 2 supply and demand across the size spectrum. The model reproduces three key aspects of the observed patterns of intergenerational size reductions measured in laboratory warming experiments of diverse aquatic ectotherms (i.e., the “temperature-size rule” [TSR]). First, the interspecific mean and variability of the TSR is predicted from species’ temperature sensitivities of hypoxia tolerance, whose nonlinearity with temperature also explains the second TSR pattern—its amplification as temperatures rise. Third, as body size increases across the tree of life, the impact of growth on O 2 demand declines while its benefit to O 2 supply rises, decreasing the size dependence of hypoxia tolerance and requiring larger animals to contract by a larger fraction to compensate for a thermally driven rise in metabolism. Together our results support O 2 limitation as the mechanism underlying the TSR, and they provide a physiological basis for projecting ectotherm body size responses to climate change from microbes to macrofauna. For small species unable to rapidly migrate or evolve greater hypoxia tolerance, ocean warming and O 2 loss in this century are projected to induce >20% reductions in body mass. Size reductions at higher trophic levels could be even stronger and more variable, compounding the direct impact of human harvesting on size-structured ocean food webs. 
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