Coccolithophore responses to environmental variability in the South China Sea: species composition and calcite content
Abstract. Coccolithophore contributions to the global marine carbon cycle are regulated by the calcite content of their scales (coccoliths) and the relative cellular levels of photosynthesis and calcification rates. All three of these factors vary between coccolithophore species and with response to the growth environment. Here, water samples were collected in the northern basin of the South China Sea (SCS) during summer 2014 in order to examine how environmental variability influenced species composition and cellular levels of calcite content. Average coccolithophore abundance and their calcite concentration in the water column were 11.82 cells mL−1 and 1508.3 pg C mL−1, respectively, during the cruise. Water samples can be divided into three floral groups according to their distinct coccolithophore communities. The vertical structure of the coccolithophore community in the water column was controlled by the trophic conditions, which were regulated by mesoscale eddies across the SCS basin. The evaluation of coccolithophore-based calcite in the surface ocean also showed that three key species in the SCS (Emiliania huxleyi, Gephyrocapsa oceanica, Florisphaera profunda) and other larger, numerically rare species made almost equal contributions to total coccolith-based calcite in the water column. For Emiliania huxleyi biometry measurements, coccolith size positively correlated with nutrients (nitrate, phosphate), and it is suggested that coccolith length is influenced by light and nutrients through the regulation of growth rates. Larger-sized coccoliths were also linked statistically to low pH and calcite saturation states; however, it is not a simple cause and effect relationship, as carbonate chemistry was strongly co-correlated with the other key environmental factors (nutrients, light).