Ocean acidification reduces the growth of two Southern Ocean phytoplankton

Model projections for the Southern Ocean indicate that light, iron (Fe) availability, temperature and carbon dioxide (CO2) will change concurrently in the future. We investigated the physiological responses of Southern Ocean phytoplankton to multiple variables by culturing the haptophyte Phaeocystis antarctica and the diatom Chaetoceros flexuosus under various combinations of light, Fe, temperature and CO2. Using statistical models, the influence of each environmental variable was analysed for each physiological response, ultimately predicting how ‘future’ conditions (high temperature and high CO2) influenced the two phytoplankton species. Under future conditions, cellular chlorophyll a and carbon to nitrogen molar ratios were modelled to increase for both species, in all light and Fe treatments, but at times were inconsistent with measured values. Measured and modelled values of the photochemical efficiency of photosystem II (Fv/Fm) declined in cultures of P. antarctica due to concurrent increases in temperature and CO2, under all light and Fe treatments. The trends in Fv/Fm for C. flexuosus were less clear. Our model and observations suggest that when temperature and CO2 are concurrently increased, the growth of both species remains largely unchanged. This modelling analysis reveals that high CO2 exerts a strong negative influence on the growth of both phytoplankton, and any ‘future’ increase in growth can be attributed to the positive effect of warming rather than a CO2 fertilisation effect.

Andrew S. M., Strzepek R. F., Branson O. & Ellwood M. J., in press. Ocean acidification reduces the growth of two Southern Ocean phytoplankton. Marine Ecology Progress Series. Article.

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