Do marine planktonic ciliates follow Bergmann's rule?

Liu, Kailin and Jiang, Siyu and Montagnes, David J. S. and Liu, Hongbin and Zheng, Liping and Huang, Bangqin and Liu, Xin and Chen, Bingzhang (2023) Do marine planktonic ciliates follow Bergmann's rule? Ecography, 2023 (6). e06452. ISSN 1600-0587 (

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Body size is a fundamental trait determining individual fitness and ecological processes. Reduction in body size with increasing temperature has been widely observed in most ectotherms and endotherms, known as Bergmann's rule. However, we lack data to assess if ciliates, the major consumers of marine primary production, follow Bergmann's rule and what drives the distributions of their cell size. Here, we examined a data set (287 samples) collected across the global oceans to investigate biogeographic patterns in the mean cell-size of ciliate communities. By measuring the sizes of every ciliate cell (< 10 to > 300 per sample), we found that community cell-size increased with increasing latitude, conforming to Bergmann's rule. We then addressed the cause. Temperature was a main driver of the trend. Ciliate community mean cell-size decreased 34% when temperature increased from 3.5 to 31°C, implying that temperature may be a direct physiological driver. In addition, prey (phytoplankton) size also influenced the trend, with ciliate size increasing by 35% across the gradient of phytoplankton size (0.6–15.5 μm). Generally, these findings emphasized the importance of how both biotic and abiotic factors affect size distribution of marine ciliates, a key component of pelagic ecosystems. Our novel, extensive dataset and the predictive trends arising from them contribute to understanding how climate change will influence pelagic ecosystem functions.