Ocean acidification affects the phyto-zoo plankton trophic transfer efficiency

Posted on OA: 22 Apr 2016

 The critical role played by copepods in ocean ecology and biogeochemistry warrants an understanding of how these animals may respond to ocean acidification (OA). Whilst an appreciation of the potential direct effects of OA, due to elevated pCO2, on copepods is improving, little is known about the indirect impacts acting via bottom-up (food quality) effects. We assessed, for the first time, the chronic effects of direct and/or indirect exposures to elevated pCO2 on the behaviour, vital rates, chemical and biochemical stoichiometry of the calanoid copepod Acartia tonsa. Bottom-up effects of elevated pCO2 caused species-specific biochemical changes to the phytoplanktonic feed, which adversely affected copepod population structure and decreased recruitment by 30%. The direct impact of elevated pCO2 caused gender-specific respiratory responses in A.tonsa adults, stimulating an enhanced respiration rate in males (> 2-fold), and a suppressed respiratory response in females when coupled with indirect elevated pCO2 exposures. Under the combined indirect+direct exposure, carbon trophic transfer efficiency from phytoplankton-to-zooplankton declined to < 50% of control populations, with a commensurate decrease in recruitment. For the first time an explicit role was demonstrated for biochemical stoichiometry in shaping copepod trophic dynamics. The altered biochemical composition of the CO2-exposed prey affected the biochemical stoichiometry of the copepods, which could have ramifications for production of higher tropic levels, notably fisheries. Our work indicates that the control of phytoplankton and the support of higher trophic levels involving copepods have clear potential to be adversely affected under future OA scenarios.


Cripps G., Flynn K. J. & Lindeque P. K., 2016. Ocean acidification affects the phyto-zoo plankton trophic transfer efficiency. PLoS ONE 11(4):e0151739. Article.