In the context of maintenance of biodiversity and ecological functions, microbial ecologists face the challenge of linking individual level variability in functional traits to larger scale ecosystem processes. Phytoplankton cell size and shape are key traits under selection by environmental filters and species interactions. Spatial differences in resource availability shape species diversity according to their use efficiency. Niche partitioning promotes plankton diversity. Here, we explore how size and shape enter the diversity game. How does taxonomic and morpho-functional community structure vary at different spatial scales? What are the potential drivers shaping the structure of phytoplankton communities? We explore these questions by looking at the individual level variability in taxonomic and morphological traits in a biogeographical snapshot of natural phytoplankton communities in coastal ecosystems around the globe. We found that taxonomic variability is mainly concentrated at local and regional levels, whereas shape and size variability are mainly concentrated at a local level, despite the environmental heterogeneity of ecosystems. Species diversity was more variable than trait diversity from local to global spatial scales. We suggest that structural organization of phytoplankton communities in coastal ecosystems may follow a hierarchical pattern of trait organization, where a different combination of multiple functional traits may represent effective strategies and promote success under given environmental conditions as a resolution of Hutchinson's paradox.

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