Diversity of ocean acidification effects on marine N2 fixers

Considering the important role of N2 fixation for primary productivity and CO2 sequestration, it is crucial to assess the response of diazotrophs to ocean acidification. Previous studies on the genus Trichodesmium suggested a strong sensitivity towards ocean acidification. In view of the large functional diversity in N2 fixers, the objective of this study was to improve our knowledge of the CO2 responses of other diazotrophs. To this end, the single-celled Cyanothece sp. and two heterocystous species, Nodularia spumigena and the symbiotic Calothrix rhizosoleniae, were acclimated to two pCO2 levels (380 vs. 980 μatm). Growth rates, cellular composition (carbon, nitrogen and chlorophyll a) as well as carbon and N2 fixation rates (14C incorporation, acetylene reduction) were measured and compared to literature data on different N2 fixers. The three species investigated in this study responded differently to elevated pCO2, showing enhanced, decreased as well as unaltered growth and production rates. For instance, Cyanothece increased production rates with pCO2, which is in line with the general view that N2 fixers benefit from ocean acidification. Due to lowered growth and production of Nodularia, nitrogen input to the Baltic Sea might decrease in the future. In Calothrix, no significant changes in growth or production could be observed, even though N2 fixation was stimulated under elevated pCO2. Reviewing literature data confirmed a large variability in CO2 sensitivity across diazotrophs. The contrasting response patterns in our and previous studies were discussed with regard to the carbonate chemistry in the respective natural habitats, the mode of N2 fixation as well as differences in cellular energy limitation between the species. The group-specific CO2 sensitivities will impact differently on future biogeochemical cycles of open-ocean environments and systems like the Baltic Sea and should therefore be considered in models estimating climate feedback effects.

Eichner M., Rost B. & Kranz S. A., 2014. Diversity of ocean acidification effects on marine N2 fixers. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 457:199–207. Article.

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