Geographical CO2 sensitivity of phytoplankton correlates with ocean buffer capacity

Sophie Richier, Eric. P. Achterberg, Matthew P. Humphreys, Alex J. Poulton, David J Suggett, Toby Tyrrell, C. Mark Moore

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11 Citations (Scopus)
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Accumulation of anthropogenic CO2 is significantly altering ocean chemistry. A range of biological impacts resulting from this oceanic CO2 accumulation are emerging, however the mechanisms responsible for observed differential susceptibility between organisms and across environmental settings remain obscure. A primary consequence of increased oceanic CO2 uptake is a decrease in the carbonate system buffer capacity, which characterises the system's chemical resilience to changes in CO2, generating the potential for enhanced variability in pCO2 and the concentration of carbonate [CO32‐], bicarbonate [HCO3‐] and protons [H+] in the future ocean. We conducted a meta‐analysis of 17 shipboard manipulation experiments performed across three distinct geographical regions that encompassed a wide range of environmental conditions from European temperate seas to Arctic and Southern oceans. These data demonstrated a correlation between the magnitude of natural phytoplankton community biological responses to short‐term CO2 changes and variability in the local buffer capacity across ocean basin scales. Specifically, short‐term suppression of small phytoplankton (<10 μm) net growth rates were consistently observed under enhanced pCO2 within experiments performed in regions with higher ambient buffer capacity. The results further highlight the relevance of phytoplankton cell size for the impacts of enhanced pCO2 in both the modern and future ocean. Specifically, cell‐size related acclimation and adaptation to regional environmental variability, as characterised by buffer capacity, likely influences interactions between primary producers and carbonate chemistry over a range of spatio‐temporal scales.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4438-4452
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number9
Early online date25 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018


  • carbonate chemistry
  • carbonate system buffer capacity
  • anthropogenic change
  • ocean acidification
  • cell size
  • experimental manipulation

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