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Compensation of ocean acidification effects in Arctic phytoplankton assemblages


The Arctic and subarctic shelf seas, which sustain large fisheries and contribute to global biogeochemical cycling, are particularly sensitive to ongoing ocean acidification (that is, decreasing seawater pH due to anthropogenic CO2 emissions). Yet, little information is available on the effects of ocean acidification on natural phytoplankton assemblages, which are the main primary producers in high-latitude waters. Here we show that coastal Arctic and subarctic primary production is largely insensitive to ocean acidification over a large range of light and temperature levels in different experimental designs. Out of ten CO2-manipulation treatments, significant ocean acidification effects on primary productivity were observed only once (at temperatures below 2 °C), and shifts in the species composition occurred only three times (without correlation to specific experimental conditions). These results imply a high capacity to compensate for environmental variability, which can be understood in light of the environmental history, tolerance ranges and intraspecific diversity of the dominant phytoplankton species.

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We thank the crew, captain and scientific teams of the Canadian Arctic-GEOTRACES 2015 campaign on-board the GCCS Amundsen. Further, the AWIPEV station teams of 2014 and 2016 are acknowledged for their exceptional logistics support. Kings Bay AS provided laboratory facilities for the Svalbard (KF) experiments. L. Wischnewski, M. Kiel, D. Semeniuk, J. Mol, H. Thomas and M. Soon are thanked for laboratory assistance. We thank D. Wolf-Gladrow for his help with the statistical analysis. C.J.M.H. thanks P. Assmy and the Norwegian Polar Institute for providing the perfect working environment to write a first version of this manuscript. Funding for this work was provided by the AWI Strategy Fund and from the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research programme of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. C.J.M.H. received additional funding through a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

Author information

C.J.M.H., N.S., P.D.T. and B.R. designed the study; C.J.M.H., K.K.E.W., N.S. and P.D.T. carried out the experiments; C.J.M.H. carried out the sample and data analyses; C.J.M.H. wrote the manuscript with contributions from K.K.E.W., N.S., P.D.T. and B.R.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Clara Jule Marie Hoppe.

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Supplementary Tables I1–I6, Supplementary Figure I1

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Fig. 1: Responses of chlorophyll a-normalized NPP to OA under different environmental conditions.
Fig. 2: Schematic illustration of the potential mechanisms underlying the observed resistance.