Subtle biological responses to increased CO2 concentrations by Phaeocystis globosa Scherffel, a harmful algal bloom species

Recent investigations into the role of carbon dioxide on phytoplankton growth and composition have clearly shown differential effects among species and assemblages, suggesting that increases in oceanic CO2 may play a critical role in structuring lower trophic levels of marine systems in the future. Furthermore, alarming increases in the occurrence of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in coastal waters have been observed, and while not uniform among systems, appear in some manner to be linked to human impacts (eutrophication) on coastal systems. Models of HABs are in their infancy and do not at present include sophisticated biological effects or their environmental controls. Here we show that subtle biological responses occur in the HAB species Phaeocystis globosa Scherffel as a result of CO2 enrichment induced by gentle bubbling. The alga, which has a polymorphic life history involving the formation of both colonies and solitary cells, exhibited altered growth rates of colonial and solitary forms at [CO2] of 750 ppm, as well as increased colony formation. In addition, substantial modifications of elemental and photosynthetic constituents of the cells (C cell−1, N cell−1, potential quantum yield, chl a cell−1) occurred under elevated CO2 concentrations compared to those found at present CO2 levels. In contrast, other individual and population variables (e.g., colony diameter, total chlorophyll concentration, carbon/nitrogen ratio) were unaffected by increased CO2. Our results suggest that predictions of the future impacts of Phaeocystis blooms on coastal ecosystems and local biogeochemistry need to carefully examine the subtle biological responses of this alga in addition to community and ecosystem effects.

Wang, Y., Smith Jr., W. O., Wang, X., & Li, S., 2010. Subtle biological responses to increased CO2 concentrations by Phaeocystis globosa Scherffel, a harmful algal bloom species. Geophysical Research Letters 37:L09604. Article (subscription required).


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