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Organismal distributions are largely mediated by temperature, suggesting thermal trait variability plays a key role in defining species' niches. We employed a trait‐based approach to better understand how inter‐ and intraspecific thermal trait variability could explain diatom community dynamics using 24 strains from 5 species in the diatom genusSkeletonema, isolated from Narragansett Bay (NBay), where this genus can comprise up to 99% of the microplankton. Strain‐specific thermal reaction norms were generated using growth rates obtained at temperatures ranging from −2°C to 36°C. Comparison of thermal reaction norms revealed inter‐ and intraspecific similarities in the thermal optima, but significant differences approaching the thermal limits. Cellular elemental composition was determined for two thermally differentiated species and again, the most variation occurred approaching the thermal limits. To determine the potential impact of interspecific variability on community composition, a species succession model was formulated utilizing each species' empirically determined thermal reaction norm and historical temperature data from NBay. Seasonal succession in the modeled community resembled the timing of species occurrence in the field, but not species' relative abundance. The model correctly predicted the timing of the dominant winter–spring species, Skeletonema marinoi, within 0–14 d of its observed peak occurrence in the field. Interspecific variability approaching the thermal limits provides an alternative mechanism for temporal diatom succession, leads to altered cellular elemental composition, and thus has the potential to influence carbon flux and nutrient cycling, suggesting that growth approaching the thermal limits be incorporated into both empirical and modeling efforts in the future.
Anderson, S.I. and Rynearson, T.A. (2020), Variability approaching the thermal limits can drive diatom community dynamics. Limnol Oceanogr. doi:10.1002/lno.11430
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