Ocean acidification impacts on nitrogen fixation in the coastal western Mediterranean Sea

The effects of ocean acidification on nitrogen (N2) fixation rates and on the community composition of N2-fixing microbes (diazotrophs) were examined in coastal waters of the North-Western Mediterranean Sea. Nine experimental mesocosm enclosures of ∼50 m3 each were deployed for 20 days during June-July 2012 in the Bay of Calvi, Corsica, France. Three control mesocosms were maintained under ambient conditions of carbonate chemistry. The remainder were manipulated with CO2 saturated seawater to attain target amendments of pCO2 of 550, 650, 750, 850, 1000 and 1250 μatm. Rates of N2 fixation were elevated up to 10 times relative to control rates (2.00 ± 1.21 nmol L-1d-1) when pCO2 concentrations were >1000 μatm and pHT (total scale) < 7.74. Diazotrophic phylotypes commonly found in oligotrophic marine waters, including the Mediterranean, were not present at the onset of the experiment and therefore, the diazotroph community composition was characterised by amplifying partial nifH genes from the mesocosms. The diazotroph community was comprised primarily of cluster III nifH sequences (which include possible anaerobes), and proteobacterial (α and γ) sequences, in addition to small numbers of filamentous (or pseudo-filamentous) cyanobacterial phylotypes. The implication from this study is that there is some potential for elevated N2 fixation rates in the coastal western Mediterranean before the end of this century as a result of increasing ocean acidification. Observations made of variability in the diazotroph community composition could not be correlated with changes in carbon chemistry, which highlights the complexity of the relationship between ocean acidification and these keystone organisms.

Rees A. P., Turk-Kubo K. A., Al-Moosawi L., Alliouane S., Gazeau F., Hogan M. E. & Zehr J. P., in press. Ocean acidification impacts on nitrogen fixation in the coastal western Mediterranean Sea. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. Article (subscription required).

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