Articles | Volume 15, issue 3
Research article
09 Feb 2018
Research article |  | 09 Feb 2018

Phosphorus limitation and heat stress decrease calcification in Emiliania huxleyi

Andrea C. Gerecht, Luka Šupraha, Gerald Langer, and Jorijntje Henderiks

Abstract. Calcifying haptophytes (coccolithophores) sequester carbon in the form of organic and inorganic cellular components (coccoliths). We examined the effect of phosphorus (P) limitation and heat stress on particulate organic and inorganic carbon (calcite) production in the coccolithophore Emiliania huxleyi. Both environmental stressors are related to rising CO2 levels and affect carbon production in marine microalgae, which in turn impacts biogeochemical cycling. Using semi-continuous cultures, we show that P limitation and heat stress decrease the calcification rate in E. huxleyi. However, using batch cultures, we show that different culturing approaches (batch versus semi-continuous) induce different physiologies. This affects the ratio of particulate inorganic (PIC) to organic carbon (POC) and complicates general predictions on the effect of P limitation on the PIC  ∕  POC ratio. We found heat stress to increase P requirements in E. huxleyi, possibly leading to lower standing stocks in a warmer ocean, especially if this is linked to lower nutrient input. In summary, the predicted rise in global temperature and resulting decrease in nutrient availability may decrease CO2 sequestration by E. huxleyi through lower overall carbon production. Additionally, the export of carbon may be diminished by a decrease in calcification and a weaker coccolith ballasting effect.

Short summary
Calcifying phytoplankton play an import role in long-term CO2 removal from the atmosphere. We therefore studied the ability of a representative species to continue sequestrating CO2 under future climate conditions. We show that CO2 sequestration is negatively affected by both an increase in temperature and the resulting decrease in nutrient availability. This will impact the biogeochemical cycle of carbon and may have a positive feedback on rising CO2 levels.
Final-revised paper