MEPS 155:67-76 (1997)  -  doi:10.3354/meps155067

CO2 availability affects elemental composition (C:N:P) of the marine diatom Skeletonema costatum

Burkhardt S, Riebesell U

The effect of variable CO2 concentrations on the elemental composition (C:N:P) of marine diatoms was investigated in 2 strains of Skeletonema costatum (Grev.) Cleve. Five or 6 concentrations of dissolved molecular carbon dioxide [CO2 (aq)], ranging from 0.5 to 39 µmol l-1, were applied in dilute batch cultures. In both strains, elemental ratios were clearly dependent on [CO2 (aq)]. With decreasing CO2 concentrations, a decline in C:P and N:P and an increase in C:N was observed. The close correlation between C:P or N:P and [CO2 (aq)] corresponded to a ca 45 to 65% decrease in elemental ratios from highest (>=30 µmol l-1) to lowest (ca 1 µmol l-1) CO2 concentrations. C:N at low [CO2 (aq)] was up to 24% higher than at high [CO2 (aq)]. To date, the elemental composition of marine phytoplankton has been considered to be independent of CO2 availability. If dependency of the C:N:P ratio on [CO2 (aq)] proves to be a general phenomenon in marine phytoplankton, changes in the elemental composition may be expected in response to the currently observed increase in partial pressure of atmospheric CO2.


Redfield ratio · CO2 · Phytoplankton · Marine diatoms · Cell stoichiometry


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