Is coccolithophore distribution in the Mediterranean Sea related to seawater carbonate chemistry?

The Mediterranean Sea is considered a “hot-spot” for climate change, being characterized by oligotrophic to ultra-oligotrophic waters and rapidly changing carbonate chemistry. Coccolithophores are considered a dominant phytoplankton group in these waters. As a marine calcifying organism they are expected to respond to the ongoing changes in seawater CO2 systems parameters. However, very few studies have covered the entire Mediterranean physiochemical gradients from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Eastern Mediterranean Levantine Basin. We provide here an updated state of knowledge of the coccolithophore distribution in the Mediterranean Sea and relate this to a broad set of in situ measured environmental variables. Samples were taken during the Meteor (M84/3) oceanographic cruise in April 2011, between 0–100 m water depth from 28 stations. Total diatom, dinoflagellate and silicoflagellate cell concentrations are also presented. Our results highlight the importance of seawater carbonate chemistry, especially CO32−, in unraveling the distribution of heterococcolithophores, the most abundant coccolithophore life phase. Holo- and hetero-coccolithophores respond differently to environmental factors. For instance, changes in heterococcolithophore assemblages were best linked to the combination of [CO32−], pH, and salinity (ρ = 0.57) although salinity might be not functionally related to coccolithophore assemblage distribution. Holococcolithophores, on the other hand, were preferentially distributed and showed higher species diversity in oligotrophic areas (Best fit, ρ = 0.32 for nutrients), thriving in nutrient depleted waters. Clustering of heterococcolithophores revealed three groups of species sharing more than 65% similarities. These clusters could be assigned to the eastern and western basins, and deeper layers (below 50 m), respectively. In addition, the species Gephyrocapsa oceanica, G. muellerae and Emiliania huxleyi morphotype B/C are spatially distributed together and trace the influx of Atlantic waters into the Mediterranean Sea. The results of the present work emphasize the importance of considering holo- and hetero-coccolithophores separately when analyzing changes in species assemblages and diversity. Our findings clearly show that coccolithophores are a dominant phytoplankton group in the entire Mediterranean Sea; they have life stages that are expected to respond differently to the variability in seawater carbonate chemistry and nutrient concentrations.

Oviedo A. M., Ziveri P., Álvarez M. & Tanhua T., 2014. Is coccolithophore distribution in the Mediterranean Sea related to seawater carbonate chemistry? Ocean Science Discussions 11: 613-653. Article.

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