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Solar-Powered Plankton Take Monty Python Advice: Run Away

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At least gazelles can run. But if you’re a tree, a blade of grass, or a hapless kohlrabi, there’s nothing you can do when the choppers, nippers, or clippers of your predator — aka “grazer” — approach. Such is the fate of most photosynthetic organisms, which we landlubbers tend to think of as plants. But not for all.

In the aquatic microbial world, there are photosynthetic organisms that apparently have another option when their grazers approach: flee.

Scientists at the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island have found — and reported in a recent issue of PLoS ONE — that at least one marine phytoplankton can flee from its predators to low-saline refuges. There, their biology allows them to grow where their predators cannot, and potentially provides an explanation for the tendency of this species — Heterosigma akashiwo — to form harmful algal blooms in estuaries around the world.

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