Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 28 Issue 02

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Volume 28, No. 2
Pages 74 - 91


Response of Photosynthesis to Ocean Acidification

By Katherine R.M. Mackey , J. Jeffrey Morris , François M.M. Morel , and Sven A. Kranz  
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Article Abstract

All phytoplankton and higher plants perform photosynthesis, where carbon dioxide is incorporated into biomass during cell growth. Ocean acidification (OA) has the potential to affect photosynthetic kinetics due to increasing seawater pCO2 levels and lower pH. The effects of increased CO2 are difficult to predict because some species utilize carbon concentrating mechanisms that buffer their sensitivity to ambient CO2 levels and require variable energy investments. Here, we discuss the current state of knowledge about the effects of increased CO2 on photosynthesis across marine photosynthetic taxa from cyanobacteria and single-celled eukaryotes to marine macrophytes. The analysis shows that photosynthetic responses to OA are relatively small for most investigated species and highly variable throughout taxa. This could suggest that the photosynthetic benefits of high CO2 are minor relative to the cell’s overall energy and material balances, or that the benefit to photosynthesis is counteracted by other negative effects, such as possible respiratory costs from low pH. We conclude with recommendations for future research directions, such as probing how other physiological processes respond to OA, the effects of multiple stressors, and the potential evolutionary outcomes of long-term growth under ocean acidification.


Mackey, K.R.M., J.J. Morris, F.M.M. Morel, and S.A. Kranz. 2015. Response of photosynthesis to ocean acidification. Oceanography 28(2):74–91, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2015.33.

Supplementary Materials

» Supplemental Table S1 (25 KB .csv file) A table of data used for Figure 2—data collected from studies that compared the indicated parameters at modern (~380 ppm) versus elevated (650–1,000 ppm) CO2.

» Data and Methods (http://www.bco-dmo.org/dataset/554221/data)
The raw data from the literature review, as well as methods used to compile and process those data, are archived at BCO-DMO.


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