Phytoplankton fuel epipelagic ecosystems and affect global biogeochemical cycles. Nevertheless, there is still a lack of quantitative information about the factors that determine both phytoplankton community structure and dynamics, particularly in subtropical gyres. Here, we estimated size fractionated phytoplankton growth (μ) and microzooplankton grazing rates (m) along a transect in the subtropical North Atlantic, from the island of Hispaniola to the Iberian Peninsula, by conducting dilution experiments and fitting mixed models. We also examined the relationship between nutrient availability and the differences in both phytoplankton community structure and size fractionated phytoplankton growth rates at two spatial scales (i.e. subtropical gyre and within-province spatial scale). Our results revealed high values for both phytoplankton growth and microzooplankton grazing rates. Phytoplankton growth (0.00–1.19 d−1) displayed higher variability among stations, biogeochemical provinces and size fractions than the microzooplankton grazing rate (0.32–0.74 d−1). Differences in phytoplankton community structure were associated with dissolved inorganic nitrogen (0.72–5.85 μM; R2 = 0.19) and squared Brunt-Väisälä frequency (R2 = 0.21) at the whole gyre scale. Conversely, the differences in phytoplankton growth rate showed a weak relationship with those properties (R2 ⩽ 0.05) at that scale, but a stronger relationship at the within province scale (R2 ⩾ 0.07). These results support the idea that phytoplankton grow at high rates in oligotrophic subtropical gyres, this is likely due to the selection of phytoplankton groups with functional traits suited to exploit low nutrient availability. Thus, shedding new, multi-scale knowledge on the commonly misunderstood “ocean deserts”.
- phytoplankton growth rate
- microzooplankton grazing rate
- phytoplankton community structure
- nutrient availability
- subtropical gyres
- dilution experiments
- mixed models