Impacts of increased atmospheric CO2 concentration on photosynthesis and growth of micro- and macro-algae

Marine photosynthesis drives the oceanic biological CO2 pump to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, which sinks more than one third of the industry-originated CO2 into the ocean. The increasing atmospheric CO2 and subsequent rise of pCO2 in seawater, which alters the carbonate system and related chemical reactions and results in lower pH and higher HCO3 − concentration, affect photosynthetic CO2 fixation processes of phytoplanktonic and macroalgal species in direct and/or indirect ways. Although many unicellular and multicellular species can operate CO2-concentrating mechanisms (CCMs) to utilize the large HCO3 − pool in seawater, enriched CO2 up to several times the present atmospheric level has been shown to enhance photosynthesis and growth of both phytoplanktonic and macro-species that have less capacity of CCMs. Even for species that operate active CCMs and those whose photosynthesis is not limited by CO2 in seawater, increased CO2 levels can down-regulate their CCMs and therefore enhance their growth under light-limiting conditions (at higher CO2 levels, less light energy is required to drive CCM). Altered physiological performances under high-CO2 conditions may cause genetic alteration in view of adaptation over long time scale. Marine algae may adapt to a high CO2 oceanic environment so that the evolved communities in future are likely to be genetically different from the contemporary communities. However, most of the previous studies have been carried out under indoor conditions without considering the acidifying effects on seawater by increased CO2 and other interacting environmental factors, and little has been documented so far to explain how physiology of marine primary producers performs in a high-CO2 and low-pH ocean.

Wu, H., Zou, D. & Gao, K., 2008. Impacts of increased atmospheric CO2 concentration on photosynthesis and growth of micro- and macro-algae. Science in China Series C: Life Sciences 51(12): 1144-1150. Article (subscription required).

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