Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) limit primary production in many aquatic ecosystems, with major implications for ecological interactions in plankton communities. Yet it remains unclear how evolution may affect the N∶P stoichiometry of phytoplankton-zooplankton interactions. Here, we address this issue by analyzing an eco-evolutionary model of phytoplankton-zooplankton interactions with explicit nitrogen and phosphorus dynamics. In our model, investment of phytoplankton in nitrogen versus phosphorus uptake is an evolving trait, and zooplankton display selectivity for phytoplankton with N∶P ratios matching their nutritional requirements. We use this model to explore implications of the contrasting N∶P requirements of copepods versus cladocerans. The model predicts that selective zooplankton strongly affect the N∶P ratio of phytoplankton, resulting in deviations from their optimum N∶P ratio. Specifically, selective grazing by nitrogen-demanding copepods favors dominance of phytoplankton with low N∶P ratios, whereas phosphorus-demanding cladocerans favor dominance of phytoplankton with high N∶P ratios. Interestingly, selective grazing by nutritionally balanced zoo-plankton leads to the occurrence of alternative stable states, where phytoplankton may evolve either low, optimum, or high N∶P ratios, de-pending on the initial conditions. These results offer a new perspective on commonly observed differences in N∶P stoichiometry between plankton of freshwater and those of marine ecosystems and indicate that selective grazing by zooplankton can have a major impact on the stoichiometric composition of phytoplankton.
- N∶P ratio
- Redfield ratio