Marine Biology

, Volume 160, Issue 8, pp 1813–1824 | Cite as

Responses of marine benthic microalgae to elevated CO2

  • V. R. Johnson
  • C. Brownlee
  • R. E. M. Rickaby
  • M. Graziano
  • M. Milazzo
  • J. M. Hall-SpencerEmail author
Original Paper


Increasing anthropogenic CO2 emissions to the atmosphere are causing a rise in pCO2 concentrations in the ocean surface and lowering pH. To predict the effects of these changes, we need to improve our understanding of the responses of marine primary producers since these drive biogeochemical cycles and profoundly affect the structure and function of benthic habitats. The effects of increasing CO2 levels on the colonisation of artificial substrata by microalgal assemblages (periphyton) were examined across a CO2 gradient off the volcanic island of Vulcano (NE Sicily). We show that periphyton communities altered significantly as CO2 concentrations increased. CO2 enrichment caused significant increases in chlorophyll a concentrations and in diatom abundance although we did not detect any changes in cyanobacteria. SEM analysis revealed major shifts in diatom assemblage composition as CO2 levels increased. The responses of benthic microalgae to rising anthropogenic CO2 emissions are likely to have significant ecological ramifications for coastal systems.


Benthic Diatom Amphora Prochlorococcus Carbonate Chemistry Benthic Microalgae 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



VJ is carrying out a PhD funded by the Marine Institute, University of Plymouth (UoP) and thanks are due to the staff at the Marine Biological Association, UK and the SEM unit at UoP for laboratory support. We also thank C. Totti and T. Romagnoli at Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy for assistance with diatom identification, R. Lee at the Department of Earth Sciences at Oxford University for help with fieldwork, Y. Olsen and L. Basso at IMEDEA, Spain for providing light data and A. Beesley at Plymouth Marine Laboratory for performing total alkalinity analysis. This article contributes to the EU FP7 project on ‘Mediterranean Sea Acidification under a changing climate’ (MedSeA grant agreement no. 265103) and to the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme, with additional funding for JHS from Save Our Seas Foundation and for RR from ERC grant SP2-GA-2008-200915.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. R. Johnson
    • 1
  • C. Brownlee
    • 2
  • R. E. M. Rickaby
    • 3
  • M. Graziano
    • 4
    • 5
  • M. Milazzo
    • 5
  • J. M. Hall-Spencer
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, Marine InstituteUniversity of PlymouthPlymouthUK
  2. 2.The Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom (MBA), The LaboratoryPlymouthUK
  3. 3.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.CNR-Institute of Atmospheric Pollution Research, UNICAL-PolifunzionaleRendeItaly
  5. 5.Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra e del MareUniversity of PalermoPalermoItaly

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