Cyanobacterial carbon concentrating mechanisms facilitate sustained CO2 depletion in eutrophic lakes

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Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

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Phytoplankton blooms are increasing in frequency, intensity, and duration in aquatic ecosystems worldwide. In many eutrophic lakes, these high levels of primary productivity correspond to periods of CO2 depletion in surface waters. Cyanobacteria and other groups of phytoplankton have the ability to actively transport bicarbonate (HCO3) across their cell membrane when CO2 concentrations are limiting, possibly giving them a competitive advantage over algae not using carbon concentrating mechanisms (CCMs). To investigate whether CCMs can maintain phytoplankton bloom biomass under CO2 depletion, we measured the δ13C signatures of dissolved inorganic carbon (δ13CDIC) and phytoplankton particulate organic carbon (δ13Cphyto) in 16 mesotrophic to hypereutrophic lakes during the ice-free season of 2012. We used mass–balance relationships to determine the dominant inorganic carbon species used by phytoplankton under CO2 stress. We found a significant positive relationship between phytoplankton biomass and phytoplankton δ13C signatures as well as a significant nonlinear negative relationship between water column ρCO2 and isotopic composition of phytoplankton, indicating a shift from diffusive uptake to active uptake by phytoplankton of CO2 or HCO3 during blooms. Calculated photosynthetic fractionation factors indicated that this shift occurs specifically when surface water CO2 drops below atmospheric equilibrium. Our results indicate that active HCO3 uptake via CCMs may be an important mechanism in maintaining phytoplankton blooms when CO2 is depleted. Further increases in anthropogenic pressure, eutrophication, and cyanobacteria blooms are therefore expected to contribute to increased bicarbonate uptake to sustain primary production.


This article is published as Morales-Williams, A.M., Wanamaker, A.D., and Downing, J.D., (2017) Cyanobacterial carbon concentrating mechanisms facilitate sustained CO2 depletion in eutrophic lakes, Biogeosciences, 14, 2865-2875. doi: 10.5194/bg-14-2865-2017. Posted with permission.

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