Earth Institute Research Projects

Collaborative Research: Ocean Acidification: Impacts of Evolution on the Response of Phytoplankton Populations to Rising CO2

Lead PI: Sonya Dyhrman

Unit Affiliation: Biology and Paleo Environment, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

June 2013 - May 2019
Global ; Palisades, NY ; Birmingham, AL
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: n unprecedented rate, perturbing the ocean's carbonate buffering system, lowering oceanic pH, and changing the concentration and composition of dissolved inorganic carbon. Recent studies have shown that this ocean acidification has many short-term effects on phytoplankton, including changes in carbon fixation among others. These physiological changes could have profound effects on phytoplankton metabolism and community structure, with concomitant effects on Earth's carbon cycle and, hence, global climate. However, extrapolation of present understanding to the field are complicated by the possibility that natural populations might evolve in response to their changing environments, leading to different outcomes than those predicted from short-term studies. Indeed, evolution experiments demonstrate that microbes are often able to rapidly adapt to changes in the environment, and that beneficial mutations are capable of sweeping large populations on time scales relevant to predictions of environmental dynamics in the coming decades. This project addresses two major areas of uncertainty for phytoplankton populations with the following questions: 1) What adaptive mutations to elevated CO2 are easily accessible to extant species, how often do they arise, and how large are their effects on fitness? 2) How will physical and ecological interactions affect the expansion of those mutations into standing populations?