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Impact of ocean acidification on phytoplankton-virus interactions

One of the most serious impacts of burning fossil fuels has been the acidification of the world's oceans as carbon dioxide diffuses into the surface layers, causing a significant decrease in pH. These acidic conditions make the biomineralisation of calcareous shells increasingly difficult, thereby threatening biodiversity by causing the extinction of calcifying plankton ecosystems.
Impact of ocean acidification on phytoplankton-virus interactions
Coccolithophores are microalgae covered with small calcareous scales that play a central role in the carbon cycle in the world's oceans. The HI PH-IVE (Historical and current phytoplankton interactions with viruses: Emiliania huxleyi case study) project investigated how coccolithophores reacted to abrupt climate change.

Our understanding of how biodiversity will alter in the face of a changing climate is limited by a lack of knowledge of eukaryotic biodiversity in the oceans and rates of biodiversity change. HI PH-IVE therefore set out to understand the complexity and rate of adaptation in E. huxleyi, a dominant coccolithophore in the oceans of today.

Researchers developed genetic markers for the first study to describe the microdiversity between and within the closely related key coccolithophore species E. huxleyi and Gephyrocapsa oceanica. The project also shed light on an unsuspected evolutionary process in these species controlled by environmental factors, particularly temperature. This will have a significant impact on our understanding of adaptability within different populations/species by partial gene flow between distant populations and future assessment of their biodiversity.

The project also demonstrated how viruses are fundamentally associated with E. huxleyi life history and the regulation of populations. This represents a positive pressure in enhancing and selecting phytoplankton adaptability and consequently biodiversity.

Metabarcoding techniques were used to contrast environments in the North Atlantic Ocean through a series of samples dating back to 1960. This provided a robust framework for developing the ecological modelling of molecular diversity and related niche adaptation to temperature in the genus Gephyrocapsa.

The results will lead to the first global study to correlate a multi-gene barcode approach to genomic and metabarcoding data in an environmental context for a cosmopolitan phytoplankton assemblage. They will also enable HI PH-IVE to improve predictions regarding the effect of climate change on phytoplankton. Further, project findings will help to understand the key genetic adaptabilities enabling these organisms to adapt to and survive multi-stress environments, virus infection and increasing acidification of the world's oceans.

Related information


Ocean acidification, phytoplankton, biomineralisation, calcareous, biodiversity, coccolithophores
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