A meta-analysis on environmental drivers of marine phytoplankton C: N: P

Tatsuro Tanioka, Katsumi Matsumoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The elemental stoichiometry of marine phytoplankton plays a critical role in global biogeochemical cycles through its impact on nutrient cycling, secondary production, and carbon export. Although extensive laboratory experiments have been carried out over the years to assess the influence of different environmental drivers on the elemental composition of phytoplankton, a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the processes is still lacking. Here, we synthesized the responses of P:C and N:C ratios of marine phytoplankton to five major drivers (inorganic phosphorus, inorganic nitrogen, inorganic iron, irradiance, and temperature) by a meta-analysis of experimental data across 366 experiments from 104 journal articles. Our results show that the response of these ratios to changes in macronutrients is consistent across all the studies, where the increase in nutrient availability is positively related to changes in P:C and N:C ratios. We found that eukaryotic phytoplankton are more sensitive to the changes in macronutrients compared to prokaryotes, possibly due to their larger cell size and their abilities to regulate their gene expression patterns quickly. The effect of irradiance was significant and constant across all studies, where an increase in irradiance decreased both P:C and N:C. The P:C ratio decreased significantly with warming, but the response to temperature changes was mixed depending on the culture growth mode and the growth phase at the time of harvest. Along with other oceanographic conditions of the subtropical gyres (e.g., low macronutrient availability), the elevated temperature may explain why P:C is consistently low in subtropical oceans. Iron addition did not systematically change either P:C or N:C. Overall, our findings highlight the high stoichiometric plasticity of eukaryotes and the importance of macronutrients in determining P:C and N:C ratios, which both provide us insights on how to understand and model plankton diversity and productivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2939-2954
Number of pages16
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 9 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the Na-

Funding Information:
This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Division of Ocean Sciences (grant no. 1827948).

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements. Tatsuro Tanioka acknowledges support from the University of Minnesota Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. Kat-sumi Matsumoto acknowledges sabbatical support by the Lever-hulme Trust Visiting Professorship and the University of Oxford. We thank Carolyn Bishoff, Julia Kelly, and Amy Riegelman from the University of Minnesota Library for helping out the literature search and data selection. We also thank James Cotner for providing us feedback on the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© Author(s) 2020.


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