Intraspecific variation in multiple trait responses of Alexandrium ostenfeldii towards elevated pCO2


• Trait responses of three Alexandrium ostenfeldii strains to high CO2 conditions.

• All three strains increased their growth rates.

• Substantial variation in the production of volatile organic compounds.

• Variation in phenotypic plasticity of trait responses between strains.


Dissolved oceanic CO2 concentrations are rising as result of increasing atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2), which has large consequences for phytoplankton. To test how higher CO2 availability affects different traits of the toxic dinoflagellate Alexandrium ostenfeldii, we exposed three strains of the same population to 400 and 1,000 µatm CO2, and measured traits including growth rate, cell volume, elemental composition, 13C fractionation, toxin content, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Strains largely increased their growth rates and particulate organic carbon and nitrogen production with higher pCO2 and showed significant changes in their VOC profile. One strain showed a significant decrease in both PSP and cyclic imine content and thereby in cellular toxicity. Fractionation against 13C increased in response to elevated pCO2, which may point towards enhanced CO2 acquisition and/or a downscaling of the carbon concentrating mechanisms. Besides consistent responses in some traits, other traits showed large variation in both direction and strength of responses towards elevated pCO2. The observed intraspecific variation in phenotypic plasticity of important functional traits within the same population may help A. ostenfeldii to negate the effects of immediate environmental fluctuations and allow populations to adapt more quickly to changing environments.

Brandenburg K. M., Krock B., Klip H. C. L., Sluijs A., Garbeva P. & Van de Waal D. B., 2021. Intraspecific variation in multiple trait responses of Alexandrium ostenfeldii towards elevated pCO2, Harmful Algae 101: 101970. doi: 10.1016/j.hal.2020.101970. Article.

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