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Rapid evolution of highly variable competitive abilities in a key phytoplankton species


Climate change challenges plankton communities, but evolutionary adaptation could mitigate the potential impacts. Here, we tested with the phytoplankton species Emiliania huxleyi whether adaptation to a stressor under laboratory conditions leads to equivalent fitness gains in a more natural environment. We found that fitness advantages that had evolved under laboratory conditions were masked by pleiotropic effects in natural plankton communities. Moreover, new genotypes with highly variable competitive abilities evolved on timescales significantly shorter than climate change.

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Fig. 1: Development of E. huxleyi abundance.


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We thank L. Schlüter for providing the ten E. huxleyi lineages, J. Meyer for technical assistance in the laboratory and the KOSMOS Kristineberg team for maintenance of the mesocosm infrastructure. We are also grateful for the warm hospitality of the staff at the Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Infrastructure at the University of Gothenburg. This research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Science and Education in the framework of the Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification II project (FKZ 03F06550).

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L.T.B. conceived the study, conducted the experiment, performed the measurements and data evaluation, and drafted the manuscript. T.B.H.R performed the statistical analyses. All authors designed the experiment and contributed to the manuscript revision.

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Correspondence to Lennart T. Bach.

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Supplementary tables 1–3; supplementary figures 1–6.

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Bach, L.T., Lohbeck, K.T., Reusch, T.B.H. et al. Rapid evolution of highly variable competitive abilities in a key phytoplankton species. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 611–613 (2018).

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