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Media opportunity: New framework developed by Dalhousie University researchers looks at the foundation of ocean ecosystems in a new way

Posted by Communications and Marketing on August 6, 2021 in News

Phytoplankton are the foundation of ocean ecosystems: like rainforests, they consume carbon from the atmosphere, form the foundation of the aquatic food web and are a vital player in impacting fish abundance and the global climate. Understanding how these microscopic organisms grow is key to determining how much fish will be available to harvest, and how the climate will further change.

Researchers at Dalhousie University, University of Liverpool, GEOMAR in Kiel, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography have come up with a new framework to look at phytoplankton growth in the ocean. Phytoplankton growth can be thought of like a factory: materials come into the factory and are processed on assembly lines, forming the final product. For phytoplankton, this product is growing faster, and they rearrange their "cellular assembly lines" to grow fast.

Led by Scott McCain, a PhD candidate in the Biology Department at Dalhousie, the team specifically focused on the costs of these “cellular assembly lines” associated with different resources that go into making phytoplankton, rather than the amount of available materials. They then built a mathematical model of a phytoplankton to represent these costs, discovering new explanations for different phytoplankton behaviours. This fundamentally changes the way we look at phytoplankton growth and will lead to better predictions of how much phytoplankton grow in the ocean, and therefore also impact our predictions for fisheries and global climate change.

McCain is available to discuss the findings, published in Science Advances, and how this model can be used to show how fast a product is being made by looking at the organization of the phytoplankton “factory.”


Media contact:
Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Dalhousie University
Cell: (902) 220-0491


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