Every year, the oceans absorb about 30% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) leading to a re-equilibration of the marine carbonate system and decreasing seawater pH. Today, there is increasing awareness that these changes–summarized by the term ocean acidification (OA)–could differentially affect the competitive ability of marine organisms, thereby provoking a restructuring of marine ecosystems and biogeochemical element cycles. In winter 2013, we deployed ten pelagic mesocosms in the Gullmar Fjord at the Swedish west coast in order to study the effect of OA on plankton ecology and biogeochemistry under close to natural conditions. Five of the ten mesocosms were left unperturbed and served as controls (~380 μatm pCO2), whereas the others were enriched with CO2-saturated water to simulate realistic end-of-the-century carbonate chemistry conditions (~760 μatm pCO2). We ran the experiment for 113 days which allowed us to study the influence of high CO2 on an entire winter-to-summer plankton succession and to investigate the potential of some plankton organisms for evolutionary adaptation to OA in their natural environment. This paper is the first in a PLOS collection and provides a detailed overview on the experimental design, important events, and the key complexities of such a “long-term mesocosm” approach. Furthermore, we analyzed whether simulated end-of-the-century carbonate chemistry conditions could lead to a significant restructuring of the plankton community in the course of the succession. At the level of detail analyzed in this overview paper we found that CO2-induced differences in plankton community composition were non-detectable during most of the succession except for a period where a phytoplankton bloom was fueled by remineralized nutrients. These results indicate: (1) Long-term studies with pelagic ecosystems are necessary to uncover OA-sensitive stages of succession. (2) Plankton communities fueled by regenerated nutrients may be more responsive to changing carbonate chemistry than those having access to high inorganic nutrient concentrations and may deserve particular attention in future studies.
EPIC Alfred Wegener Institut