Variation in plastic responses of a globally distributed picoplankton species to ocean acidification

Phytoplankton are the basis of marine food webs, and affect biogeochemical cycles. As CO2 levels increase, shifts in the frequencies and physiology of ecotypes within phytoplankton groups will affect their nutritional value and biogeochemical function. However, studies so far are based on a few representative genotypes from key species. Here, we measure changes in cellular function and growth rate at atmospheric CO2 concentrations predicted for the year 2100 in 16 ecotypes of the marine picoplankton Ostreococcus. We find that variation in plastic responses among ecotypes is on par with published between-genera variation, so the responses of one or a few ecotypes cannot estimate changes to the physiology or composition of a species under CO2 enrichment. We show that ecotypes best at taking advantage of CO2 enrichment by changing their photosynthesis rates most should increase in relative fitness, and so in frequency in a high-CO2 environment. Finally, information on sampling location, and not phylogenetic relatedness, is a good predictor of ecotypes likely to increase in frequency in this system.

Schaum E., Rost B., Millar A. J. & Collins S., in press. Variation in plastic responses of a globally distributed picoplankton species to ocean acidification. Nature Climate Change. Article (subscription required).

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