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Surface‐ocean mixing creates dynamic light environments with predictable effects on phytoplankton growth but unknown consequences for predation. We investigated how variations in average mixed‐layer (ML) irradiance shaped plankton trophic dynamics by incubating a Northwest‐Atlantic plankton community for 4 days at high (H) and low (L) light, followed by exposure to either sustained or reversed light intensities. In deep‐ML (sustained L), phytoplankton biomass declined (μ = −0.2 ± 0.08 d−1) and grazing was absent. In shallow‐ML (sustained H), growth exceeded grazing (μ = 0.46 ± 0.07 d−1; g = 0.32 ± 0.04 d−1). In rapidly changing ML‐conditions simulated by switching light‐availability, growth and grazing responded on different timescales. During rapid ML‐shoaling (L to H), μ immediately increased (0.23 ± 0.01 d−1) with no change in grazing. During rapid ML‐deepening (H to L), μ immediately decreased (0.02 ± 0.09 d−1), whereas grazing remained high (g = 0.38 ± 0.05 d−1). Predictable rate responses of phytoplankton growth (rapid) vs. grazing (delayed) to measurable light variability can provide insights into predator‐prey processes and their effects on spatio‐temporal dynamics of phytoplankton biomass.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.