Universal response pattern of phytoplankton growth rates to increasing CO2

Phytoplankton growth rate is a key variable controlling species succession and ecosystem structure throughout the surface ocean. Carbonate chemistry conditions are known to influence phytoplankton growth rates but there is no conceptual framework allowing us to compare growth rate responses across taxa. Here we analyse the literature to show that phytoplankton growth rates follow an optimum curve response pattern whenever the tested species is exposed to a sufficiently large gradient in proton (H+) concentrations. Based on previous findings with coccolithophores and diatoms, we argue that this “universal reaction norm” is shaped by the stimulating influence of increasing inorganic carbon substrate (left side of the optimum) and the inhibiting influence of increase H+ (right side of the optimum). We envisage that exploration of carbonate chemistry‐dependent optimum curves as a default experimental approach will boost our mechanistic understanding of phytoplankton responses to ocean acidification, like temperature curves have already boosted our mechanistic understanding to global warming.

Paul A. J. & Bach L. T., in press. Universal response pattern of phytoplankton growth rates to increasing CO2. New Phytologist. Article (subscription required).

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book