Mesoscale vortices and the paradox of the plankton

A. Bracco, A. Provenzale, I. Scheuring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

76 Citations (Scopus)


Coexistence of competitive species is severely limited by the availability of resources and the characteristics of the environment. In particular, the so-called 'competitive exclusion principle' states that, at equilibrium, the number of coexisting species cannot be larger than the number of resources for which they compete. However, many in situ observations have revealed prolonged coexistence of a large number of competitive plankton species, a phenomenon known as 'the paradox of the plankton. Here we investigate this problem and show that ocean mesoscale vortices generate transport barriers and incomplete horizontal mixing, allowing for a prolonged survival of the less-fit species, even for fully homogeneous resource distributions. In such a situation, the temporarily less-fit plankton species are protected from competition by the action of the vortices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1795-1800
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1454
Publication statusPublished - Sep 7 2000


  • Coherent vortices
  • Geophysical turbulence
  • Plankton

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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