Climate change will unquestionably influence global ocean plankton because it directly impacts both the availability of growth-limiting resources and the ecological processes governing biomass distributions and annual cycles. Forecasting this change demands recognition of the vital, yet counterintuitive, attributes of the plankton world. The biomass of photosynthetic phytoplankton, for example, is not proportional to their division rate. Perhaps more surprising, physical processes (such as deep vertical mixing) can actually trigger an accumulation in phytoplankton while simultaneously decreasing their division rates. These behaviours emerge because changes in phytoplankton division rates are paralleled by proportional changes in grazing, viral attack and other loss rates. Here I discuss this trophic dance between predators and prey, how it dictates when phytoplankton biomass remains constant or achieves massive blooms, and how it can determine even the sign of change in ocean ecosystems under a warming climate.