High temperature decreases the PIC / POC ratio and increases phosphorus requirements in Coccolithus pelagicus (Haptophyta)
Abstract. Rising ocean temperatures will likely increase stratification of the water column and reduce nutrient input into the photic zone. This will increase the likelihood of nutrient limitation in marine microalgae, leading to changes in the abundance and composition of phytoplankton communities, which in turn will affect global biogeochemical cycles. Calcifying algae, such as coccolithophores, influence the carbon cycle by fixing CO2 into particulate organic carbon through photosynthesis (POC production) and into particulate inorganic carbon through calcification (PIC production). As calcification produces a net release of CO2, the ratio of PIC to POC production determines whether coccolithophores act as a source (high PIC / POC) or a sink (low PIC / POC) of atmospheric CO2. We studied the effect of phosphorus (P-) limitation and high temperature on the physiology and the PIC / POC ratio of two subspecies of Coccolithus pelagicus. This large and heavily calcified species is a major contributor to calcite export from the photic zone into deep-sea reservoirs. Phosphorus limitation did not influence exponential growth rates in either subspecies, but P-limited cells had significantly lower cellular P-content. One of the subspecies was subjected to a 5 °C temperature increase from 10 °C to 15 °C, which did not affect exponential growth rates either, but nearly doubled cellular P-content under both high and low phosphate availability. This temperature increase reduced the PIC / POC ratio by 40–60%, whereas the PIC / POC ratio did not differ between P-limited and nutrient-replete cultures when the subspecies were grown near their respective isolation temperature. Both P-limitation and elevated temperature significantly increased coccolith malformations. Our results suggest that a temperature increase may intensify P-limitation due to a higher P-requirement to maintain growth and POC production rates, possibly reducing abundances in a warmer ocean. Under such a scenario C. pelagicus may decrease its calcification rate relative to photosynthesis, thus favouring CO2 sequestration over release. It seems unlikely that P-limitation by itself causes changes in the PIC / POC ratio in this species.