Temperature modulates coccolithophorid sensitivity of growth, photosynthesis and calcification to increasing seawater pCO₂

PLoS One. 2014 Feb 5;9(2):e88308. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088308. eCollection 2014.


Increasing atmospheric CO₂ concentrations are expected to impact pelagic ecosystem functioning in the near future by driving ocean warming and acidification. While numerous studies have investigated impacts of rising temperature and seawater acidification on planktonic organisms separately, little is presently known on their combined effects. To test for possible synergistic effects we exposed two coccolithophore species, Emiliania huxleyi and Gephyrocapsa oceanica, to a CO₂ gradient ranging from ∼0.5-250 µmol kg⁻¹ (i.e. ∼20-6000 µatm pCO₂) at three different temperatures (i.e. 10, 15, 20°C for E. huxleyi and 15, 20, 25°C for G. oceanica). Both species showed CO₂-dependent optimum-curve responses for growth, photosynthesis and calcification rates at all temperatures. Increased temperature generally enhanced growth and production rates and modified sensitivities of metabolic processes to increasing CO₂. CO₂ optimum concentrations for growth, calcification, and organic carbon fixation rates were only marginally influenced from low to intermediate temperatures. However, there was a clear optimum shift towards higher CO₂ concentrations from intermediate to high temperatures in both species. Our results demonstrate that the CO₂ concentration where optimum growth, calcification and carbon fixation rates occur is modulated by temperature. Thus, the response of a coccolithophore strain to ocean acidification at a given temperature can be negative, neutral or positive depending on that strain's temperature optimum. This emphasizes that the cellular responses of coccolithophores to ocean acidification can only be judged accurately when interpreted in the proper eco-physiological context of a given strain or species. Addressing the synergistic effects of changing carbonate chemistry and temperature is an essential step when assessing the success of coccolithophores in the future ocean.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Calcification, Physiologic
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis*
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism*
  • Haptophyta / physiology*
  • Photosynthesis
  • Seawater / analysis*
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Temperature


  • Carbon Dioxide

Grant support

The work was funded by the European project Network of leading MESOcosms facilities to advance the studies of future AQUAtic ecosystems from the Artic to the Mediterranean (MESOAQUA, subproject 7) and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in the framework of the Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification (BIOACID, subproject 3.1.1. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.