Impacts of elevated pCO2 on estuarine phytoplankton biomass and community structure in two biogeochemically distinct systems in Louisiana, USA

Highlights

• Initial phytoplankton composition impacts community response to elevated pCO2.
• Elevated pCO2 decreased phytoplankton biomass.
• Phytoplankton nutritional value decreased at elevated pCO2.
• Several trace metal elements increased at elevated pCO2.

Abstract

Ocean acidification has the potential to impact the ocean’s biogeochemical cycles and food web dynamics, with phytoplankton in the distinctive position to profoundly influence both, as individual phytoplankton species play unique roles in energy flow and element cycling. Previous studies have focused on short-term exposure of monocultures to low pH, but do not reflect the competitive dynamics within natural phytoplankton communities. This study explores the use of experimental microcosms to expose phytoplankton assemblages to elevated pCO2 for an extended period of time. Phytoplankton communities were collected from two biogeochemically distinct Louisiana estuaries, Caillou Lake (CL) and Barataria Bay (BB), and cultured in lab for 16 weeks while bubbling CO2 enriched air corresponding to current (400 ppm) and future (1000 ppm) pCO2 levels. Results suggest that elevated pCO2 does not implicitly catalyze an increase in phytoplankton biomass (chlorophyll a). While pigment data showcased a parabolic trend and microscopic observations revealed a loss in species diversity within each major taxonomic class. By the end of the 16-week incubation, 10 out of the 12 cultures had a community structure analogous to that of the startup phytoplankton assemblage collected from the field. Natural phytoplankton assemblages exposed to elevated pCO2 experienced multiple transitional states over the course of a 16-week incubation, indicating that there is no deterministic successional pathway dictated by coastal acidification but community adaptation was observed.

Mallozzi A. J., Errera R. M., Bargu S. & Herrmann A. D., 2019. Impacts of elevated pCO2 on estuarine phytoplankton biomass and community structure in two biogeochemically distinct systems in Louisiana, USA. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 511: 28-39. Article (subscription required).

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book