A 13C labelling study on carbon fluxes in Arctic plankton communities under elevated CO2 levels

The effect of CO2 on carbon fluxes in Arctic plankton communities was investigated during the 2010 EPOCA mesocosm study in Ny Ålesund, Svalbard. Nine mesocosms were set up with initial pCO2 levels ranging from 185 to 1420 μatm for 5 weeks. 13C labelled bicarbonate was added at the start of the experiment to follow the transfer of carbon from dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) into phytoplankton, bacteria, total particulate organic carbon (POC), zooplankton, and settling particles. Polar lipid derived fatty acids (PLFA) were used to trace carbon dynamics of phytoplankton and bacteria and allowed distinction of two groups of phytoplankton: phyto I (autotrophs) and phyto II (mixotrophs). Nutrients were added on day 13. A nutrient-phytoplankton-zooplankton-detritus model amended with 13C dynamics was constructed and fitted to the data to quantify uptake rates and carbon fluxes in the plankton community during the phase prior to nutrient addition (phase 1, days 0–12).

During the first 12 days, a phytoplankton bloom developed that was characterized by high growth rates (0.87 days−1) for phyto I and lower growth rates (0.18 days−1) for phyto II. A large part of the carbon fixed by phytoplankton (~31%) was transferred to bacteria, while mesozooplankton grazed only ~6% of the production. After 6 days, the bloom collapsed and part of the organic matter subsequently settled into the sediment traps. The sedimentation losses of detritus in phase 1 were low (0.008 days−1) and overall export was only ~7% of production. Zooplankton grazing and detritus sinking losses prior to nutrient addition were sensitive to CO2: grazing decreased with increasing CO2, while sinking increased.

Phytoplankton production increased again after nutrient addition on day 13. Although phyto II showed initially higher growth rates with increasing CO2 (days 14–22), the overall production of POC after nutrient addition (phase 2, days 14–29) decreased with increasing CO2. Significant sedimentation occurred towards the end of the experiment (after day 24) and much more material settled down in the sediment traps at low CO2.

de Kluijver A., Soetaert K., Czerny J., Schulz K. G., Boxhammer T., Riebesell U. & Middelburg J. J., 2012.  A 13C labelling study on carbon fluxes in Arctic plankton communities under elevated CO2 levels. Biogeosciences Discussions 9: 8571-8610. Article.

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