Marine phytoplankton are famously photogenic.
Take, for instance, diatoms. They are among the most common type of phytoplankton and are especially breathtaking: their cell walls are made of silica, a glass-like compound, and take a variety of forms including discs, tubes, and star-like structures.
Scientists have long sought to understand the factors that contribute to the diversity of phytoplankton.
“Presumably all these different shapes have some ecological meaning,” said Andrew Barton, an assistant professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Biological Sciences Division at the University of California San Diego. “Some shapes might be hard to eat, or maybe are advantageous for acquiring scarce resources.”