Is coccolithophore distribution in the Mediterranean Sea related to seawater carbonate chemistry?

Patrizia Ziveri, A. Oviedo, M. Álvarez, T. Tanhua

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


The Mediterranean Sea is considered a "hot spot" for climate change, being characterized by oligotrophic to ultra-oligotrophic waters and rapidly increasing seasurface temperature and changing carbonate chemistry. Coccolithophores are considered a dominant phytoplankton group in these waters. As marine calcifying organisms they are expected to respond to the ongoing changes in seawater carbonate chemistry. We provide here a description of the springtime coccolithophore distribution in the Mediterranean Sea and relate this to a broad set of in situ-measured environmental variables. Samples were taken during the R/V Meteor (M84/3) oceanographic cruise in April 2011, between 0 and 100 m water depth from 28 stations. Total diatom and silicoflagellate cell concentrations are also presented. Our results highlight the importance of seawater carbonate chemistry, especially [CO32-] but also [PO43-] in unraveling the distribution of heterococcolithophores, the most abundant coccolithophore life phase. Holo-and heterococcolithophores respond differently to environmental factors. For instance, changes in heterococcolithophore assemblages were best linked to the combination of [CO<subs>32&minus;], pH, and salinity (&rho; Combining double low line 0.57), although salinity might be not functionally related to coccolithophore assemblage distribution. Holococcolithophores, on the other hand, showed higher abundances and species diversity in oligotrophic areas (best fit, &rho; Combining double low line 0.32 for nutrients), thriving in nutrient-depleted waters. Clustering of heterococcolithophores revealed three groups of species sharing more than 65% similarities. These clusters could be assigned to the eastern and western basins and deeper layers (below 50 m), respectively. In addition, the species Gephyrocapsa oceanica, G. muellerae, and Emiliania huxleyi morphotype B/C are spatially distributed together and trace the influx of Atlantic waters into the Mediterranean Sea. The results of the present work emphasize the importance of considering holo-and heterococcolithophores separately when analyzing changes in species assemblages and diversity. Our findings suggest that coccolithophores are a main phytoplankton group in the entire Mediterranean Sea and can dominate over siliceous phytoplankton. They have life stages that are expected to respond differently to the variability in seawater carbonate chemistry and nutrient concentrations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-32
Number of pages20
JournalOcean Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2015


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