High nitrate to phosphorus regime attenuates negative effects of rising pCO2 on total population carbon accumulation (update)

The ongoing rise in atmospheric pCO2 and consequent increase in ocean acidification have direct effects on marine calcifying phytoplankton, which potentially alters carbon export. To date it remains unclear, firstly, how nutrient regime, in particular by coccolithophores preferred phosphate limitation, interacts with pCO2 on particulate carbon accumulation; secondly, how direct physiological responses on the cellular level translate into total population response. In this study, cultures of Emiliania huxleyi were full-factorially exposed to two different N:P regimes and three different pCO2 levels. Cellular biovolume and PIC and POC content significantly declined in response to pCO2 in both nutrient regimes. Cellular PON content significantly increased in the Redfield treatment and decreased in the high N:P regime. Cell abundance significantly declined in the Redfield and remained constant in the high N:P regime. We hypothesise that in the high N:P regime severe phosphorous limitation could be compensated either by reduced inorganic phosphorous demand and/or by enzymatic uptake of organic phosphorous. In the Redfield regime we suggest that enzymatic phosphorous uptake to supplement enhanced phosphorous demand with pCO2 was not possible and thus cell abundance declined. These hypothesised different physiological responses of E. huxleyi among the nutrient regimes significantly altered population carrying capacities along the pCO2 gradient. This ultimately led to the attenuated total population response in POC and PIC content and biovolume to increased pCO2 in the high N:P regime. Our results point to the fact that the physiological (i.e. cellular) PIC and POC response to ocean acidification cannot be linearly extrapolated to total population response and thus carbon export. It is therefore necessary to consider both effects of nutrient limitation on cell physiology and their consequences for population size when predicting the influence of coccolithophores on atmospheric pCO2 feedback and their function in carbon export mechanisms.

Matthiessen B., Eggers S. L., & Krug S. A., 2012. High nitrate to phosphorus regime attenuates negative effects of rising pCO2 on total population carbon accumulation. Biogeosciences 9(3): 1195-1203. Article.

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