High nitrate to phosphorus ratio attenuates negative effects of rising pCO2 on net population carbon accumulation

The ongoing rise in atmospheric pCO2 and the consequent increase in ocean acidification have direct effects on marine calcifying phytoplankton which potentially translates into altered carbon export. To date it remains unclear first, how nutrient ratio, in particular from coccolithophores preferred phosphate limitation, interacts with pCO2 on particulate carbon accumulation. Second, how direct physiological responses on the cellular level translate into a net population response. In this study cultures of Emiliania huxleyi were full-factorially exposed to two different N:P ratios (Redfield and high N:P) and three different pCO2 levels. Effects on net population particulate inorganic and organic carbon (PIC, POC) were measured after E. huxleyi cultures reached stationary phase. Thereby cell sizes and total cell abundance were taken into account. Corresponding to literature results show a significant negative cellular PIC and POC response which, however, was strongest under high N:P ratio. In contrast, net population PIC and POC accumulation was significantly attenuated under high N:P ratio. We suggest that less cellular nutrient accumulation allowed for higher cell abundances which compensated for the strong negative cellular PIC and POC response to pCO2 on the population level. Moreover, the design of this study also allowed following natural alteration of carbon chemistry through changing DIC and alkalinity. Our results suggest that at high initial pCO2 natural alteration of pCO2 during the experimental runtime was regulated by algal biomass. In contrast, at low initial pCO2 the PIC/POC ratio was responsible for changes in pCO2.

Krug S. A., Eggers S. L., & Matthiessen B., 2011. High nitrate to phosphorus ratio attenuates negative effects of rising pCO2 on net population carbon accumulation. Biogeosciences Discussions 8(4):6833-6857. Article.

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