Dinoflagellates and diatoms are among the most prominent microeukaryotic plankton groups, and they have evolved different functional traits reflecting their roles within ecosystems. However, links between their metabolic processes and functional traits within different environmental contexts warrant further study. The functional biodiversity of dinoflagellates and diatoms was accessed with metatranscriptomics using Pfam protein domains as proxies for functional processes. Despite the overall geographic similarity of functional responses, abiotic (i.e., temperature and salinity; ~800 Pfam domains) and biotic (i.e., taxonomic group; ~1500 Pfam domains) factors influencing particular functional responses were identified. Salinity and temperature were identified as the main drivers of community composition. Higher temperatures were associated with an increase of Pfam domains involved in energy metabolism and a decrease of processes associated with translation and the sulfur cycle. Salinity changes were correlated with the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites (e.g., terpenoids and polyketides) and signal transduction processes, indicating an overall strong effect on the biota. The abundance of dinoflagellates was positively correlated with nitrogen metabolism, vesicular transport and signal transduction, highlighting their link to biotic interactions (more so than diatoms) and suggesting the central role of species interactions in the evolution of dinoflagellates. Diatoms were associated with metabolites (e.g., isoprenoids and carotenoids), as well as lysine degradation, which highlights their ecological role as important primary producers and indicates the physiological importance of these metabolic pathways for diatoms in their natural environment. These approaches and gathered information will support ecological questions concerning the marine ecosystem state and metabolic interactions in the marine environment.
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