Are the oceans turning into deserts? Rising temperature, increasing surface stratification, and decreasing vertical inputs of nutrients are expected to cause an expansion of warm, nutrient deplete ecosystems. Such an expansion is predicted to negatively affect a trio of key ocean biogeochemical features: phytoplankton biomass, primary productivity, and carbon export. However, phytoplankton communities are complex adaptive systems with immense diversity that could render them at least partially resilient to global changes. This can be illustrated by the biology of the Prochlorococcus “collective.” Adaptations to counter stress, use of alternative nutrient sources, and frugal resource allocation can allow Prochlorococcus to buffer climate-driven changes in nutrient availability. In contrast, cell physiology is more sensitive to temperature changes. Here, we argue that biogeochemical models need to consider the adaptive potential of diverse phytoplankton communities. However, a full understanding of phytoplankton resilience to future ocean changes is hampered by a lack of global biogeographic observations to test theories. We propose that the resilience may in fact be greater in oligotrophic waters than currently considered with implications for future predictions of phytoplankton biomass, primary productivity, and carbon export.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank all the scientists we have discussed these issues with over the last decade. We acknowledge the follow funding support for this work US National Science Foundation (OCE‐1736891, 1848576, and 1948842 to A.C.M., OCE‐1829916 to R.T.L., OCE‐1756054 to M.W.L., GRFP to A.R.M., OCE‐1827948 to KM), US Dept. of Energy Office of Science (ER65358 and DE‐SC0016329 to R.T.L.), Simons Foundation (395890 to G.I.H. and S.A.L., 549931 to G.L.B., 329108 to D.M.K.), and US Dept. of Commerce NOAA (NA18OAR4320123 to G.I.H. and S.A.L.).
© 2022 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.