Meta-analysis reveals enhanced growth of marine harmful algae from temperate regions with warming and elevated CO2 levels

Karen M. Brandenburg*, Mandy Velthuis, Dedmer B. Van de Waal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Elevated pCO2 and warming may promote algal growth and toxin production, and thereby possibly support the proliferation and toxicity of harmful algal blooms (HABs). Here, we tested whether empirical data support this hypothesis using a meta-analytic approach and investigated the responses of growth rate and toxin content or toxicity of numerous marine and estuarine HAB species to elevated pCO2 and warming. Most of the available data on HAB responses towards the two tested climate change variables concern dinoflagellates, as many members of this phytoplankton group are known to cause HAB outbreaks. Toxin content and toxicity did not reveal a consistent response towards both tested climate change variables, while growth rate increased consistently with elevated pCO2. Warming also led to higher growth rates, but only for species isolated at higher latitudes. The observed gradient in temperature growth responses shows the potential for enhanced development of HABs at higher latitudes. Increases in growth rates with more CO2 may present an additional competitive advantage for HAB species, particularly as CO2 was not shown to enhance growth rate of other non-HAB phytoplankton species. However, this may also be related to the difference in representation of dinoflagellate and diatom species in the respective HAB and non-HAB phytoplankton groups. Since the proliferation of HAB species may strongly depend on their growth rates, our results warn for a greater potential of dinoflagellate HAB development in future coastal waters, particularly in temperate regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2607-2618
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number8
Early online date8 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • climate change
  • global warming
  • harmful algal blooms
  • ocean acidification
  • sea surface temperature

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