Allometry and stoichiometry of unicellular, colonial and multicellular phytoplankton

John Beardall, Drew Allen, Jason Bragg, Zoe V. Finkel, Kevin J. Flynn, Antonietta Quigg, T. Alwyn V. Rees, Anthony Richardson, John A. Raven

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

107 Citations (Scopus)


Phytoplankton life forms, including unicells, colonies, pseudocolonies, and multicellular organisms, span a huge size range. The smallest unicells are less than 1 μm3 (e.g. cyanobacteria), while large unicellular diatoms may attain 109 μm3, being visible to the naked eye. Phytoplankton includes chemo-organotrophic unicells, colonies and multicellular organisms that depend on symbionts or kleptoplastids for their capacity to photosynthesize. Analyses of physical (transport within cells, diffusion boundary layers, package effect, turgor, and vertical movements) and biotic (grazing, viruses and other parasitoids) factors indicate potential ecological constraints and opportunities that differ among the life forms. There are also variations among life forms in elemental stoichiometry and in allometric relations between biovolume and specific growth. While many of these factors probably have ecological and evolutionary significance, work is needed to establish those that are most important, warranting explicit description in models. Other factors setting limitations on growth rate (selecting slow-growing species) await elucidation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)295-309
Number of pages15
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Allometry
  • Colony
  • Elemental stoichiometry
  • Multicellular organism
  • Phytoplankton
  • Symbiosis
  • Unicells
  • Vertical motion

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