Growth of the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi in light- and nutrient-limited batch reactors: relevance for the BIOSOPE deep ecological niche of coccolithophores
Abstract. Coccolithophores are unicellular calcifying marine algae that play an important role in the oceanic carbon cycle via their cellular processes of photosynthesis (a CO2 sink) and calcification (a CO2 source). In contrast to the well-studied, surface-water coccolithophore blooms visible from satellites, the lower photic zone is a poorly known but potentially important ecological niche for coccolithophores in terms of primary production and carbon export to the deep ocean. In this study, the physiological responses of an Emiliania huxleyi strain to conditions simulating the deep niche in the oligotrophic gyres along the BIOSOPE transect in the South Pacific Gyre were investigated. We carried out batch culture experiments with an E. huxleyi strain isolated from the BIOSOPE transect, reproducing the in situ conditions of light and nutrient (nitrate and phosphate) limitation. By simulating coccolithophore growth using an internal stores (Droop) model, we were able to constrain fundamental physiological parameters for this E. huxleyi strain. We show that simple batch experiments, in conjunction with physiological modelling, can provide reliable estimates of fundamental physiological parameters for E. huxleyi that are usually obtained experimentally in more time-consuming and costly chemostat experiments. The combination of culture experiments, physiological modelling and in situ data from the BIOSOPE cruise show that E. huxleyi growth in the deep BIOSOPE niche is limited by availability of light and nitrate. This study contributes more widely to the understanding of E. huxleyi physiology and behaviour in a low-light and oligotrophic environment of the ocean.