The team attributes the general ability of phytoplankton from coastal regions to remain productive despite highly variable environmental conditions to a number of different mechanisms. Firstly, the individual phytoplankton seem capable of acclimating to a diverse range of conditions in a flexible way, as the AWI team was able to demonstrate in further laboratory experiments. Secondly, many diatom species produce spores, which can survive for several years on the ocean floor. If the environmental conditions are advantageous for certain spores, they hatch and subsequently initiate phytoplankton blooms. As such, there is a “seed bank” which provides a high degree of inter- and intraspecific diversity, which allows those species and strain that are suited best for many combinations of environmental conditions to come up and thrive.
“Primary production in the Arctic is an essential ecosystem service, which the increasingly commercially important fishing grounds will also depend on. In our lab experiments, we were able to demonstrate that these producers are surprisingly resistant in terms of the ocean acidification levels we expect to see by the end of the century – and that’s good news!”, states AWI biologist Clara Hoppe. Nevertheless it is important to understand the limits and costs of this resistance, to which the study has made a valuable contribution. Whether the outcomes can also be used to draw conclusions regarding the complex food web in nature is something that only further research can tell us.