Marginal populations show physiological adaptations and resilience to future climatic changes across a North Atlantic distribution

Highlights

  • Elevated temperature has a greater effect on calcifying algae populations than pCO2.
  • Southern and central populations already live close to their thermal and stress limits, while northern populations appear as the most resilient to environmental changes.
  • Light calcification is the most valuable physiological process and is prioritized in populations throughout the geographical gradient in the NE Atlantic.

Abstract

Rising levels of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere over the past several decades has resulted in a changing climate and is projected to further fuel global climate change in future centuries. Key components of climate change in the ocean are ocean acidification (decreasing pH and carbonate ion concentration [ CO32- ]) and rising sea surface temperatures. While several studies have investigated the effect of these climatic changes on a single population, very few studies have addressed effects on populations living at the margins of their species distribution and the full distributional range. This gap in knowledge impedes the determination of detailed predictions for most species’ futures. Over the course of four months, we investigated physiological changes (primary production, respiration, calcification and growth rates) of 6 populations of the intertidal ecosystem engineer and articulated coralline alga Corallina officinalis to future climatic conditions (low pH (∼7.8); T + 3 °C; as well as the combination of low pH and T + 3 °C). The populations (n = 2 per geographical location) represent the northern (Iceland) and southern (Spain) margins, as well as the centre (England) of the species distribution in the NE Atlantic. Here, we show that southern and central populations are already living closer to their thermal and stress limits, while Northern populations appear to be the most resilient to environmental changes. We present data confirming light calcification to be the most valuable physiological process which is prioritized in populations throughout the geographical gradient in the NE Atlantic. We found elevated temperature to have a greater effect on populations than pCO2. Investigating and monitoring organism physiology and structure under these extreme environmental conditions provides important information to predict their acclimatisation and resilience to future environmental conditions and potential changes in their distribution.

Kolzenburg R., D’Amore F., McCoy S. J. & Ragazzola F., 2021. Marginal populations show physiological adaptations and resilience to future climatic changes across a North Atlantic distribution. Environmental and Experimental Botany: 104522. doi: 10.1016/j.envexpbot.2021.104522. Article (subscription required).

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