My research is directed towards a mechanistic understanding of marine plankton communities. Such systems are highly complex, with global impacts determined by the interaction of innumerable microscopic individuals. It is impossible to identify and describe each individual component, and so I have sought to develop models that capture the key physiological and ecological rules of organisation. Rather than asking "Who are the important players in the marine ecosystem, and what do they do?", I prefer to ask "How do fundamental microbial traits dictate large-scale ecosystem function?".
Recent global surveys have unveiled enormous levels of diversity in marine microbial
communities, with molecular analysis suggesting the existence of up 150,000 genera of marine eukaryotes in the photic layer of the ocean alone (1). These diverse - but now measurable - communities support almost all life in the ocean and play a central role in the regulation of Earth’s climate. While these ecological and climate functions are thought to be disproportionately attributable to a limited number of keystone species, we do not yet have a clear idea of why these particular species emerge from a much larger background of less influential species, and how sensitive the system might be to their loss. The aim of this project is to quantify the relative influence of these different factors in setting the structure, function and sensitivity to change of marine ecosystems.