Research ArticleECOLOGY

Phenotypic plasticity of carbon fixation stimulates cyanobacterial blooms at elevated CO2

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Science Advances  19 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 8, eaax2926
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax2926


Although phenotypic plasticity is a widespread phenomenon, its implications for species responses to climate change are not well understood. For example, toxic cyanobacteria can form dense surface blooms threatening water quality in many eutrophic lakes, yet a theoretical framework to predict how phenotypic plasticity affects bloom development at elevated pCO2 is still lacking. We measured phenotypic plasticity of the carbon fixation rates of the common bloom-forming cyanobacterium Microcystis. Our results revealed a 1.8- to 5-fold increase in the maximum CO2 uptake rate of Microcystis at elevated pCO2, which exceeds CO2 responses reported for other phytoplankton species. The observed plasticity was incorporated into a mathematical model to predict dynamic changes in cyanobacterial abundance. The model was successfully validated by laboratory experiments and predicts that acclimation to high pCO2 will intensify Microcystis blooms in eutrophic lakes. These results indicate that this harmful cyanobacterium is likely to benefit strongly from rising atmospheric pCO2.

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