Letter | Published:

Impact of ocean acidification on the structure of future phytoplankton communities

Nature Climate Change volume 5, pages 10021006 (2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

Phytoplankton form the foundation of the marine food web and regulate key biogeochemical processes. These organisms face multiple environmental changes1, including the decline in ocean pH (ocean acidification) caused by rising atmospheric pCO2 (ref. 2). A meta-analysis of published experimental data assessing growth rates of different phytoplankton taxa under both ambient and elevated pCO2 conditions revealed a significant range of responses. This effect of ocean acidification was incorporated into a global marine ecosystem model to explore how marine phytoplankton communities might be impacted over the course of a hypothetical twenty-first century. Results emphasized that the differing responses to elevated pCO2 caused sufficient changes in competitive fitness between phytoplankton types to significantly alter community structure. At the level of ecological function of the phytoplankton community, acidification had a greater impact than warming or reduced nutrient supply. The model suggested that longer timescales of competition- and transport-mediated adjustments are essential for predicting changes to phytoplankton community structure.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge funding from NSF grant OCE-1315201 (J.J.M., S.D., M.J.F., S.T.D.), DOE grant DE-FG02-94ER61937 (S.D., J.S.), the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation (S.D., M.J.F.), NSF grant OCE 13-14336 (S.T.D.), German–Israel Joint Research BMBF-MOST grant GR1950 (I.B.-F.), the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action NSF grant DBI-0939454 (J.J.M.) and a NASA Astrobiology Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship (J.J.M.).

Author information

Author notes

    • J. Jeffrey Morris

    Present address: Department of Biology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama 35294, USA.

Affiliations

  1. Center for Global Change Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Stephanie Dutkiewicz
    •  & Jeffery Scott
  2. Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Stephanie Dutkiewicz
    • , Michael J. Follows
    •  & Jeffery Scott
  3. Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA

    • J. Jeffrey Morris
  4. BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA

    • J. Jeffrey Morris
  5. Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Program, Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA

    • Orly Levitan
  6. Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Colombia University, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Sonya T. Dyhrman
  7. Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan 52900, Israel

    • Ilana Berman-Frank

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Contributions

S.D., M.J.F., J.J.M. and I.B.-F. conceived the experimental design, J.J.M. conducted the literature meta-analysis, J.S. provided the fields from the earth system model, S.D. conducted the numerical experiments and analysed the results. O.L., I.B.-F. and S.T.D. provided contextual input. S.D. and J.J.M. co-wrote the paper, with input from all authors, especially I.B.-F. and S.T.D.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stephanie Dutkiewicz.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2722

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