Characteristic Sizes of Life in the Oceans, from Bacteria to Whales

K. H. Andersen, T. Berge, R. J. Gonçalves, M. Hartvig, J. Heuschele, S. Hylander, N. S. Jacobsen, C. Lindemann, E. A. Martens, A. B. Neuheimer, K. Olsson, A. Palacz, A. E.F. Prowe, J. Sainmont, S. J. Traving, A. W. Visser, N. Wadhwa, T. Kiorboe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The size of an individual organism is a key trait to characterize its physiology and feeding ecology. Size-based scaling laws may have a limited size range of validity or undergo a transition from one scaling exponent to another at some characteristic size. We collate and review data on size-based scaling laws for resource acquisition, mobility, sensory range, and progeny size for all pelagic marine life, from bacteria to whales. Further, we review and develop simple theoretical arguments for observed scaling laws and the characteristic sizes of a change or breakdown of power laws. We divide life in the ocean into seven major realms based on trophic strategy, physiology, and life history strategy. Such a categorization represents a move away from a taxonomically oriented description toward a trait-based description of life in the oceans. Finally, we discuss life forms that transgress the simple size-based rules and identify unanswered questions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-241
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Marine Science
StatePublished - 3 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Allometric scaling
  • Body size
  • Fish
  • Metabolism
  • Mixotrophy
  • Plankton
  • Whales


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