06 May 2024
 | 06 May 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Phytoplankton adaptation to steady or changing environments affects marine ecosystem functioning

Isabell Hochfeld and Jana Hinners

Abstract. Global warming poses a major threat to marine ecosystems, which fulfill important functions for humans and the climate. Ecosystem models are therefore increasingly used to estimate future changes in the functioning of marine ecosystems. However, projections differ notably between models. We propose that a major uncertainty factor in current models is that they ignore the high adaptive potential of phytoplankton, key players in marine ecosystems. Here, we use a 0-dimensional evolutionary ecosystem model to study how phytoplankton adaptation can affect estimations of future ecosystem-level changes. We found that phytoplankton adaptation can notably change simulated ecosystem dynamics, with the effect depending on environmental conditions. In a steady environment, adaptation allows for a more efficient use of resources, which enhances primary production and related ecosystem functions. In a warming environment, on the contrary, adaptation mitigates dominance changes among functionally different taxa and consequently leads to weaker changes in related ecosystem functions. Our results demonstrate that by neglecting phytoplankton adaptation, models may systematically overestimate future changes in the functioning of marine ecosystems. Future work can build on our results and include evolutionary processes into more complex model environments.

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Isabell Hochfeld and Jana Hinners

Status: open (until 21 Jun 2024)

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Isabell Hochfeld and Jana Hinners

Model code and software

Adaptive Phytoplankton Community Model (version 1.1.0) Isabell Hochfeld

Isabell Hochfeld and Jana Hinners


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Short summary
Ecosystem models disagree on future changes in marine ecosystem functioning. We suspect that the lack of phytoplankton adaptation represents a major uncertainty factor, given the key role that phytoplankton play in marine ecosystems. Using an evolutionary ecosystem model, we found that phytoplankton adaptation can notably change simulated ecosystem dynamics. Future models should include phytoplankton adaptation, otherwise they can systematically overestimate future ecosystem-level changes.