New research published in the Aug. 25, 2013, issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B by a team of biologists and chemists at the San Francisco State University Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies have demonstrated that coccolithophores are capable of withstanding the anticipated temperature increase and increase in ocean acidity caused by global warming.
Coccolithophores are a group of algae that forms a calcified shell. The algae are found in most oceans of the world in the layer of the ocean that receives sunlight. The algae are important in the regulation of ocean temperature and the natural carbon cycle.
The researchers exposed one species of coccolithophores (Emiliania huxleyi) to the temperatures and acidic conditions that are expected to be common in the Earth’s oceans in 100 years. The one year experiment produced 700 generations of the algae.
Unexpectedly, the algae were able to maintain the growth of their calcified shells and continue to incorporate atmospheric carbon into those shells. Similar experiments found the same species of algae grew calcified shells at a lower rate in cold water with high acidity.
The researchers found no definite gene that was responsible for the ability of the algae to adapt to changing temperature and acidity conditions. The researchers propose that the algae have adapted the ability to modify the generation of their calcified shells to adapt to different climate conditions due to past experience of the same or similar conditions.
This work is the first indication that natural algal adaptations may moderate some of the anticipated effects of climate change.