Despite the important role of planktonic foraminifera in regulating the ocean carbonate production and their unrivalled value in reconstructing paleoenvironments, our knowledge on their ecology is limited. A variety of observational techniques such as plankton tows, sediment traps and experiments have contributed to our understanding of foraminifera ecology. But, fundamental questions around costs and benefits of calcification and the effect of nutrients, temperature and ecosystem structure on these organisms remain unanswered. To tackle these questions, we take a novel mechanistic approach to study planktonic foraminifera ecology based on trait theory. We develop a zero-dimensional (0-D) trait-based model to account for the biomass of prolocular (20 µm) and adult (160 µm) stages of non-spinose foraminifera species and investigate their potential interactions with phytoplankton and other zooplankton under different temperature and nutrient regimes. Building on the costs and benefits of calcification, we model two ecosystem structures to explore the effect of resource competition and temperature on planktonic foraminifera biomass. By constraining the model results with ocean biomass estimations of planktonic foraminifera, we estimate that the energetic cost of calcification could be about 10 %–50 % and 10 %–40 % for prolocular and adult stages respectively. Our result suggest that the shell provides protection against processes other than predation (e.g. pathogen invasion). We propose that the low standing biomass of planktonic foraminifera plays a key role in their survival from predation, along with their shell protection. Our model suggests a shift from temperature as a main regulator of foraminifera biomass in the early developmental stage to resource competition for adult biomass.