Increase of atmospheric CO2 promotes phytoplankton productivity

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It is usually thought that unlike terrestrial plants, phytoplankton will not show a significant response to an increase of atmospheric CO2. Here we suggest that this view may be biased by a neglect of the effects of carbon (C) assimilation on the pH and the dissociation of the C species. We show that under eutrophic conditions, productivity may double as a result of doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Although in practice productivity increase will usually be less, we still predict a productivity increase of up to 40% in marine species with a low affinity for bicarbonate. In eutrophic freshwater systems doubling of atmospheric CO2 may result in an increase of the productivity of more than 50%. Freshwaters with low alkalinity appeared to be very sensitive to atmospheric CO2 elevation. Our results suggest that the aquatic C sink may increase more than expected, and that nuisance phytoplankton blooms may be aggravated at elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)446-451
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • inorganic carbon acquisition
  • marine-phytoplankton
  • emiliania-huxleyi
  • dioxide
  • growth
  • lakes
  • availability
  • diatoms
  • impact
  • system


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