The Mechanistic Approach to Plankton Ecology seeks to use trait ecology to describe the functioning of marine ecosystems.

Trait-based ecology of marine ecosystems

Can we describe complex ocean ecosystems in a simple manner, and in ways that make it possible to assess the effects of environmental change?

Trait-based approaches have the potential to tackle the overwhelming complexity of marine ecosystems in a relatively simple way: rather than describing the many species and how they interact with each other and their environment, as in traditional species-centric approaches, trait ecological approaches consider interacting individuals characterized by a few essential traits that are interrelated through trade-offs.

Emerging functions of plankton communities

Perhaps one of the most important strengths of trait based ecology is that it provides a framework where we can examine, analyse and predict the structure and function of communities and ecosystems.

Specifically, the traits and trade-offs of organisms are inherently interrelated through either direct (e.g. predator-prey) or indirect (e.g. competition) trophic interactions, or physical and physiological constraints. In this, communities can be seen as a self-assembling and dynamic system where certain trait combinations are promoted to the detriment of others.

The trait-based approach aims to describe how structure and function of ecological communities emerge from properties of the individual organisms. 

Mechanistic Approach to Plankton Ecology

The aim of the project is to develop a trait-based model of marine ecosystems, based on mechanistic understandings of trade-offs, ranging across trophic levels from bacteria to zooplankton. The model will be applied to the California Current Ecosystem, and will be informed and tested against observations supplied by the Ohman lab’s autonomous Zooglider as it sails through this complex underwater environment.

A key goal is to derive fundamental functions of the plankton community – e.g. production and respiration rates, carbon export and trophic transfer – across the spatially diverse California Current Ecosystem.