Paleolatitudinal Gradients in Marine Phytoplankton Composition and Cell Size
Monday, 15 December 2014
Coccolithophores, a prominent group of marine calcifying unicellular algae, are widely studied in context of current and past climate change. We know that marine phytoplankton are sensitive to climatic changes, but the complex interplay of several processes such as warming, changes in nutrient content, and ocean acidification, makes future scenarios difficult to predict. Some taxa may be more susceptible to environmental perturbations than others, as evidenced by significantly different species-specific sensitivities observed in laboratory experiments. However, short-term plastic responses may not translate into longer-term climatic adaptation, nor should we readily extrapolate the behavior of single strains in the laboratory to natural, multi-species assemblages and their interactions in the ocean. The extensive fossil record of coccolithophores (in the form of coccoliths) reveals high morphological and taxonomic diversity and allows reconstructing the cell size of individual taxonomic groups. In a suite of deep-sea drilling sites from the Atlantic Ocean, we document distinct latitudinal gradients in phytoplankton composition and cell size across major climate transitions of the late Eocene – earliest Oligocene, and the middle – late Miocene. With these data we test hypotheses of species migration, phenotypic evolution, as well as the rates of species extinction and speciation in relation to concurrent paleoenvironmental changes during the Cenozoic.