Cellular costs underpin micronutrient limitation in phytoplankton
McCain JSP, Tagliabue A, Susko E, Achterberg EP, Allen AE, Bertrand EM
Micronutrients control phytoplankton growth in the ocean, influencing carbon export and fisheries. It is currently unclear how micronutrient scarcity affects cellular processes and how interdependence across micronutrients arises. We show that proximate causes of micronutrient growth limitation and interdependence are governed by cumulative cellular costs of acquiring and using micronutrients. Using a mechanistic proteomic allocation model of a polar diatom focused on iron and manganese, we demonstrate how cellular processes fundamentally underpin micronutrient limitation, and how they interact and compensate for each other to shape cellular elemental stoichiometry and resource interdependence. We coupled our model with metaproteomic and environmental data, yielding an approach for estimating biogeochemical metrics, including taxon-specific growth rates. Our results show that cumulative cellular costs govern how environmental conditions modify phytoplankton growth.