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Strong shift from HCO3− to CO2 uptake in Emiliania huxleyi with acidification: new approach unravels acclimation versus short-term pH effects

March 12, 2014

Effects of ocean acidification on Emiliania huxleyi strain RCC 1216 (calcifying, diploid life-cycle stage) and RCC 1217 (non-calcifying, haploid life-cycle stage) were investigated by measuring growth, elemental composition, and production rates under different pCO2 levels (380 and 950 μatm). In these differently acclimated cells, the photosynthetic carbon source was assessed by a 14C disequilibrium assay, conducted over a range of ecologically relevant pH values (7.9–8.7). In agreement with previous studies, we observed decreased calcification and stimulated biomass production in diploid cells under high pCO2, but no CO2-dependent changes in biomass production for haploid cells. In both life-cycle stages, the relative contributions of CO2 and HCO3 − uptake depended strongly on the assay pH. At pH values ≤ 8.1, cells preferentially used CO2 (≥ 90 % CO2), whereas at pH values ≥ 8.3, cells progressively increased the fraction of HCO3 − uptake (~45 % CO2 at pH 8.7 in diploid cells; ~55 % CO2 at pH 8.5 in haploid cells). In contrast to the short-term effect of the assay pH, the pCO2 acclimation history had no significant effect on the carbon uptake behavior. A numerical sensitivity study confirmed that the pH-modification in the 14C disequilibrium method yields reliable results, provided that model parameters (e.g., pH, temperature) are kept within typical measurement uncertainties. Our results demonstrate a high plasticity of E. huxleyi to rapidly adjust carbon acquisition to the external carbon supply and/or pH, and provide an explanation for the paradoxical observation of high CO2 sensitivity despite the apparently high HCO3 − usage seen in previous studies.

Kottmeier DM, Rokitta SD, Tortell PD, Rost B, 2014, Strong shift from HCO3− to CO2 uptake in Emiliania huxleyi with acidification: new approach unravels acclimation versus short-term pH effects, Official Journal of the International Society of Photosynthesis Research, doi:10.1007/s11120-014-9984-9. Article.

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