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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2017. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
21 Apr 2017
Review status
A revision of this discussion paper was accepted for the journal Biogeosciences (BG) and is expected to appear here in due course.
Impact of trace metal concentrations on coccolithophore growth and morphology: laboratory simulations of Cretaceous stress
Giulia Faucher1, Linn Hoffmann2, Lennart T. Bach3, Cinzia Bottini1, Elisabetta Erba1, and Ulf Riebesell3 1Earth Sciences Department “Ardito Desio”, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milan, Italy
2Department of Botany, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
3Biological Oceanography, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany
Abstract. The Cretaceous ocean witnessed intervals of profound perturbations such as volcanic input of large amounts of CO2, anoxia, eutrophication, and introduction of biologically relevant metals. Some of these extreme events were characterized by size reduction and/or morphological changes of a few calcareous nannofossil species. The correspondence between intervals of high trace metal concentrations and coccolith dwarfism suggests a negative effect of these elements on nannoplankton biocalcification process in past oceans. In order to verify this hypothesis, we explored the potential effect of a mixture of trace metals on growth and morphology of four living coccolithophore species, namely Emiliania huxleyi, Gephyrocapsa oceanica, Pleurochrysis carterae and Coccolithus pelagicus. These taxa are phylogenetically linked to the Mesozoic species showing dwarfism under excess metal concentrations. The trace metals tested were chosen to simulate the environmental stress identified in the geological record and upon known trace metal interaction with living coccolithophores algae.

Our laboratory experiments demonstrated that elevated trace metal concentrations not only affect coccolithophore algae production but, similarly to the fossil record, coccolith size and/or weight. Smaller coccoliths were detected in E. huxleyi and C. pelagicus, while coccoliths of G. oceanica showed a decrease in size only at the highest trace metal concentrations. P. carterae coccolith size was unresponsive for changing trace metal amounts. These differences among species allow to discriminate most- (P. carterae), intermediate- (E. huxleyi), and least- (C. pelagicus and G. oceanica) tolerant taxa. The fossil record and the experimental results converge on a selective response of coccolithophores to metal availability. These species-specific differences must be considered before morphological features of coccoliths are used to reconstruct paleo-chemical conditions.

Citation: Faucher, G., Hoffmann, L., Bach, L. T., Bottini, C., Erba, E., and Riebesell, U.: Impact of trace metal concentrations on coccolithophore growth and morphology: laboratory simulations of Cretaceous stress, Biogeosciences Discuss.,, in review, 2017.
Giulia Faucher et al.
Giulia Faucher et al.


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Short summary
The main goal of this study was to understand if, similarly to the fossil record, high quantities of toxic metals induce coccolith dwarfism in coccolithophore species. We investigated, for the first time, the effects of trace metals on coccolithophore species other than E. huxelyi and on coccolith morphology and size. Our data show a species-specific sensitivity to trace metal concentration, allowing the recognition of most-, intermediate- and least-tolerant taxa to trace metal enrichments.
The main goal of this study was to understand if, similarly to the fossil record, high...