The efficiency with which absorbed light is converted to net growth is a key property for estimating global carbon production. We previously showed that, despite considerable evolutionary distance, Dunaliella tertiolecta
(Chlorophyceae) and Thalassiosira weissflogii
(Bacillariophyceae) share a common strategy of photosynthetic energy utilization and nearly identical light energy conversion efficiencies. These findings suggested that a single model might be appropriate for describing relationships between measures of phytoplankton production. This conclusion was further evaluated for Ostreococcus tauri
RCC1558 and Micromonas pusilla
RCC299 (Chlorophyta, Prasinophyceae), two picoeukaryotes with contrasting geographic distributions and swimming abilities. Nutrient-dependent photosynthetic efficiencies in O. tauri
were similar to the previously studied larger algae. Specifically, absorption-normalized gross oxygen and carbon production and net carbon production were independent of nutrient limited growth rate. In contrast, all measures of photosynthetic efficiency were strongly dependent on nutrient availability in M. pusilla
. This marked difference was accompanied by a diminished relationship between Chla
:C and nutrient limited growth rate and a remarkably greater efficiency of gross-to-net energy conversion than the other organisms studied. These results suggest that the cost-benefit of decoupling pigment concentration from nutrient availability enables motile organisms to rapidly exploit more frequent encounters with micro-scale nutrient patches in open ocean environments.