The on-going discussion concerning how environmental factors determine phytoplankton size structure has centered around two hypotheses: (H1) The resource-size relationship predicts that normalized biovolume size spectrum (NBSS) slopes for phytoplankton are progressively shallower with increasing resource availability and (H2) The temperature-size relationship predicts that phytoplankton NBSS slopes steepen with increasing water temperature. To test these hypotheses, we examined 72 phytoplankton assemblage collections in the Kuroshio east of Taiwan. Total phytoplankton biomass was used as a proxy for resource availability instead of nutrients because nutrients are depleted and do not represent resource availability for oligotrophic seas. We found no significant relationship between NBSS slopes with temperature, providing little support for the temperature-size rule. In contrast, a positive relationship between NBSS slopes and total biomass for most of the year lends general support to the resource-size relationship, except during the winter and early spring. To explain this exception, we hypothesize that resource pulses occurring during the cold seasons are used more efficiently by small cells and promote faster growth of small relative to large phytoplankton because these pulses take place after a long period of resource depletion in oligotrophic seas; thus, the NBSS slopes become much steeper than would be expected from a positive resource-size relationship. This deviation can be considered as nonsteady state in terms of phytoplankton size structure relative to resources. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possibility that grazing effects also play an important role in controlling phytoplankton size structure.
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