A functional size-spectrum model of the global marine ecosystem that resolves zooplankton composition

Ryan F. Heneghan*, Jason D. Everett, Patrick Sykes, Sonia D. Batten, Martin Edwards, Kunio Takahashi, Iain M. Suthers, Julia L. Blanchard, Anthony J. Richardson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Despite their critical role as the main energy pathway between phytoplankton and fish, the functional complexity of zooplankton is typically poorly resolved in marine ecosystem models. Trait-based approaches—where zooplankton are represented with functional traits such as body size—could help improve the resolution of zooplankton in marine ecosystem models and their role in trophic transfer and carbon sequestration. Here, we present the Zooplankton Model of Size Spectra version 2 (ZooMSSv2), a functional size-spectrum model that resolves nine major zooplankton functional groups (heterotrophic flagellates, heterotrophic ciliates, larvaceans, omnivorous copepods, carnivorous copepods, chaetognaths, euphausiids, salps and jellyfish). Each group is represented by the functional traits of body size, size-based feeding characteristics and carbon content. The model is run globally at 5° resolution to steady-state using long-term average temperature and chlorophyll a for each grid-cell. Zooplankton community composition emerges based on the relative fitness of the different groups. Emergent steady-state patterns of global zooplankton abundance, biomass and growth rates agree well with empirical data, and the model is robust to changes in the boundary conditions of the zooplankton. We use the model to consider the role of the zooplankton groups in supporting higher trophic levels, by exploring the sensitivity of steady-state fish biomass to the removal of individual zooplankton groups across the global ocean. Our model shows zooplankton play a key role in supporting fish biomass in the global ocean. For example, the removal of euphausiids or omnivorous copepods caused fish biomass to decrease by up to 80%. By contrast, the removal of carnivorous copepods caused fish biomass to increase by up to 75%. Our results suggest that including zooplankton complexity in ecosystem models could be key to better understanding the distribution of fish biomass and trophic efficiency across the global ocean.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109265
JournalEcological modelling
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Functional traits
  • Marine ecosystem
  • Modelling
  • Size-spectrum model
  • Zooplankton


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