Biological controls of ocean C:N:P ratios

This is a 5-year collaborative project funded by the NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity program. The co-PIs are:

Michael Lomas (Bigelow), Simon Levin (Princeton), Kun Zhang (UCSD), Ben Van Mooy (WHOI), and Steven Allison (UCI). Other important collaborators are Chris Klausmeier and Elena Lichtman (Michigan State), Keith Moore, Francois Primeau, and Jasper Vrugt (UCI), and Mick Follows (MIT).


One of the fundamental patterns of ocean biogeochemistry is the Redfield ratio that links the elemental stoichiometry of surface plankton with the chemistry of the deep ocean. There is no obvious mechanism for the globally consistent C:N:P ratio of 106:16:1 (i.e. Redfield ratio) especially as there is substantial elemental variation among plankton communities in different ocean regions. Thus, knowing how biodiversity regulates the elemental composition of the ocean is important for our understanding of the ocean and climate as a whole – now and in the future.

We hope that this project will greatly expand our knowledge of the genomic diversity among ocean microbes and how this diversity affects biogeochemistry. The elemental stoichiometry of the ocean’s microbes is a parameter that nearly every chemical or biological oceanographer uses, from converting measurements made in one element to another, to estimating regional and global nitrogen budgets.

Several papers from this project have been published recently (and many more on its way):

Adam C. Martiny, Chau T. A. Pham, Francois W. Primeau, Jasper A. Vrugt, J. Keith Moore, Simon A. Levin, and Michael W. Lomas. Strong latitudinal patterns in the elemental ratios of marine plankton and organic matter. Nature Geoscience. 2013.

Adam C. Martiny, Jasper A. Vrugt, Francois W. Primeau, and Michael W. Lomas. Regional variation in the particulate organic carbon to nitrogen ratio in the surface ocean. Global Biogeochem Cy. 2013.

Juan A. Bonachela, Steven D. Allison, Adam C. Martiny, and Simon A. Levin. A model for variable phytoplankton stoichiometry based on cell protein regulation. Biogeosciences, 10, 4341-4356, 2013.