Mass and fine scale morphological changes induced by changing seawater pH in the Coccolith gephyrocapsa oceanica

Coccolithophores have been extensively studied to understand the environmental control on calcification in a key biological group influencing the alkalinity of seawater. Previous studies have established that bulk calcification scales with cell division rates under a wide range of pH conditions. Yet, the fine scale ultrastructural changes of the coccoliths and therefore the pH‐sensitive underlying mechanisms altering biomineralization of the coccoliths remain largely under‐constrained. Using circularly polarized light and high resolution microscopy, we have generated mass estimates of cultured Gephyrocapsa oceanica coccoliths grown in medium with pH values ranging from 7.4 to 9.0. These mass estimates representing a bulk calcification response were related to the morphological changes within the coccoliths. From optimal (pH 8.6) down to pH 7.4 conditions, we have observed that impaired cell growth and lower calcite quota are accompanied by a 35% decrease in mean coccolith mass. The data further show that seawater acidification does not homogenously affect calcification of the coccoliths, as a clear reduction in the breadth of the tube (a structure surrounding the central area of the coccoliths) was detected, whereas all other ultrastructural components were far less impacted. We discuss this specific sensitivity to acidification as the consequence of the altered interaction of the acidic polysaccharides used for biomineralization and ambient concentration of protons released by calcification that substantially modify the growth patterns, the morphology and ultimately the mass of the coccoliths.

Hermoso M. & Minoletti F., in press. Mass and fine scale morphological changes induced by changing seawater pH in the Coccolith gephyrocapsa oceanica. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences. Article (subscription required).


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