Impacts of Zn and Cu enrichment under ocean acidification scenario on a phytoplankton community from tropical upwelling system


• Phytoplankton showed higher resilience to increasing CO2.

• Few centric diatoms showed positive response to increasing CO2 supply.

• Addition of Zn under increasing CO2 inhibited cell division, but not biomass.

• The combined effects of increasing CO2 and Cu addition was insignificant on growth.

• Cu addition at high CO2 level promoted toxigenic pennate diatom growth.


Increasing dissolution of CO2 in the surface ocean is rapidly decreasing its pH and changing carbon chemistry which is further affecting marine biota in several ways. Phytoplankton response studies under the combination of elevated CO2 and trace metals are rare. We have conducted two consecutive onboard incubation experiments (R. V. Sindhu Sadhana; August 2017) in the eastern Arabian Sea (SW coast of India) during an upwelling event. A nutrient enriched diatom bloom was initiated onboard and grown under ambient (≈400 μatm, A-CO2) and high CO2 levels (≈1000 μatm; H–CO2) with different zinc (Zn; 1 nM) and copper (Cu) concentrations (1 nM, 2 nM and 8 nM). Phytoplankton community composition and the dominant genera were different during these two experiments. CO2 enrichment alone did not show any significant growth stimulating impact on the experimental community except enhanced cell density in the first experiment. Addition of Zn at A-CO2 level revealed no noticeable responses; whereas, the same treatment under H–CO2 level significantly reduced cell number. Considerably high protein content under H–CO2+Zn treatment was possibly counteracting Zn toxicity which also caused slower growth rate. Cu addition did not show any noticeable impact on growth and biomass production except increased protein content as well as decreased carbohydrate: protein ratio. This can be attributed to relatively higher protein synthesis than carbohydrate to alleviate oxidative stress generated by Cu. The centric diatom Chaetoceros and toxin producing pennate diatom Pseudo-nitzschias howed no significant response to either CO2 or Zn enrichment. Large centric diatom Leptocylindrus and Skeletonema responded positively to Zn addition in both CO2 levels. The former species showed the most sensitive response at the highest Cu and H–CO2 treatment; whereas, the pennate diatoms Nitzschia and Pseudo-nitzschia (toxigenic diatom) showed higher resilience under elevated CO2 and Cu levels. This observation indicated that in future ocean, increasing CO2 concentrations and trace metal pollution may potentially alter phytoplankton community structure and may facilitate toxigenic diatom bloom in the coastal waters.

Sharma D., Biswas H., Silori S., Bandyopadhyay D., Shaik A. R., Cardinal D., Mandeng-Yogo M. & Ray D., in press. Impacts of Zn and Cu enrichment under ocean acidification scenario on a phytoplankton community from tropical upwelling system. Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).

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