Responses of coccolithophores to ocean acidification: a meta-analysis

Concerning their sensitivity to ocean acidification, coccolithophores, a group of calcifying single-celled phytoplankton, are one of the best-studied groups of marine organisms. However, in spite of the large number of studies investigating coccolithophore physiological responses to ocean acidification, uncertainties still remain due to variable and partly contradictory results. In the present study we have used all existing data in a meta-analysis to estimate the effect size of future pCO2 changes on the rates of calcification and photosynthesis and the ratio of particulate inorganic to organic carbon (PIC/POC) in different coccolithophore species. Our results indicate that ocean acidification has a negative effect on calcification and the cellular PIC/POC ratio in the most abundant coccolithophore species Emiliania huxleyi and Gephyrocapsa oceanica. In contrast the more heavily calcified species Coccolithus braarudii did not show a distinct response when exposed to elevated pCO2/reduced pH. Photosynthesis in Gephyrocapsa oceanica was positively affected by high CO2, while no effect was observed for the other coccolithophore species. There was no indication that the method of carbonate chemistry manipulation was responsible for the inconsistent results regarding observed responses in calcification and the PIC/POC ratio. The perturbation method, however, appears to affect photosynthesis, as responses varied significantly between total alkalinity (TA) and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) manipulations. These results emphasize that coccolithophore species respond differently to ocean acidification, both in terms of calcification and photosynthesis. Where negative effects occur, they become evident at CO2 levels in the range projected for this century in case of unabated CO2 emissions. As the data sets used in this meta-analysis do not account for adaptive responses and ecological fitness, the questions remains how these physiological responses play out in the natural environment.

Meyer J. & Riebesell U., 2014. Responses of coccolithophores to ocean acidification: a meta-analysis. Biogeosciences Discussions 1114857-14887. Article.

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