Calcification: Does it pay off in the future ocean?
An international research team has calculated the costs and benefits of calcification for phytoplankton and the impact of climate change on their important role in the world's oceans.
Single-celled phytoplankton play an important role in marine biogeochemical cycling, in marine food webs and in the global climate system. Coccolithophores are a particular group that cover themselves with calcium carbonate shields, known as coccoliths. Some wrap themselves in an impenetrable coat of coccoliths, some make coccoliths in the form of sharp spikes, some use them as parasols against the sun and some form funnel-shaped light collectors.
But this requires a lot of energy -- and the price for the artful armour could rise further due to global change. With the help of a new model, the researchers analysed the energetic costs and benefits of calcification. The results, published in the current issue of the journal Science Advances, suggest that the ecological niche for calcifying algae will become narrower in the future.
The study's lead author, Dr Fanny Monteiro, lecturer and NERC research fellow from the school of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol, said: "Calcification in coccolithophores has high energy demand but brings multiple benefits enabling the currently observed diversity of their ecology and form."
Professor Toby Tyrrell, Professor in Earth System Science at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, added: "In the future ocean, the trade-off between changing ecological and physiological costs of calcification and their benefits will ultimately decide how this important group is affected by ocean acidification and global warming. There are signs that their distribution in the oceans is changing over time. If we understand better the costs and benefits of their distinguishing feature (coccoliths) then this should help us understand why their biogeography is shifting."
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Image: Coccolithophores via DECODEDSCIENCE.org