, Volume 118, Issue 1-3, pp 49-60
Date: 01 Sep 2013

Enhanced dissolved organic carbon production in aquatic ecosystems in response to elevated atmospheric CO2

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Abstract

Although aquatic ecosystems are a major carbon reservoir, how their carbon dynamics will respond to increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 is not well understood. The availability of essential nutrients has the potential to modify carbon fluxes under elevated CO2 by altering carbon processing and storage in the biota. Here, we describe a semi-continuous culture experiment with natural phytoplankton and bacteria assemblages designed to investigate (1) how carbon dynamics in aquatic ecosystems respond to continuously elevated atmospheric CO2, and (2) whether carbon fluxes resulting from elevated CO2 are modified by changes in inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus availability. Our results showed that elevated CO2 led to significant increases in photosynthetic carbon uptake, despite a decrease in the algal chlorophyll a concentrations and no significant change in total algal biovolume. This enhancement of inorganic carbon uptake was accompanied by a significant increase in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) production. Concurrent increases in the C/N and C/P ratios of dissolved organic matter also suggested that DOC stability increased. Nutrient availability, especially nitrogen availability, had strong effects on inorganic carbon uptake and biomass carbon pools. In contrast, CO2-enhanced DOC production was not significantly affected by varying concentrations of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus. Our study underscores the importance of DOC as a potential carbon sink in aquatic ecosystems. The observed responses to changes in CO2 and nutrient availability could have important implications for long-term carbon cycling in aquatic ecosystems, and highlight the potential buffering capacity of aquatic ecosystems to future environmental change.

Responsible editor: Stuart Grandy