Production of dissolved organic carbon by Arctic plankton communities: Responses to elevated carbon dioxide and the availability of light and nutrients

Alex J. Poulton, Chris J. Daniels, Mario Esposito, Matthew P. Humphreys, Elaine Mitchell, Mariana Ribas-Ribas, Benjamin C. Russell, Mark C. Stinchcombe, Eithne Tynan, Sophie Richier

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17 Citations (Scopus)


The extracellular release of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) by phytoplankton is a potentially important source of labile organic carbon for bacterioplankton in pelagic ecosystems. In the context of increasing seawater partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2), via the oceanic absorption of elevated atmospheric CO2 (ocean acidification), several previous studies have reported increases to the relative amount of carbon fixed into particulates, via primary production (PP), and dissolved phases (DOC). During the summer of 2012 we measured DOC production by phytoplankton communities in the Nordic seas of the Arctic Ocean (Greenland, Norwegian and Barents Sea) from both in situ sampling and during three bioassay experiments where pCO2 levels (targets ~550 μatm, ~750 μatm, ~1000 μatm) were elevated relative to ambient conditions. Measurements of DOC production and PP came from 24 h incubations and therefore represent net DOC production rates, where an unknown portion of the DOC released has potentially been utilised by heterotrophic organisms. Production of DOC (net pDOC) by in situ communities varied from 0.09 to 0.64 mmol C m-3 d-1 (average 0.25 mmol C m-3 d-1), with comparative rates in two of the experimental bioassays (0.04-1.23 mmol C m-3 d-1) and increasing dramatically in the third (up to 5.88 mmol C m-3 d-1). When expressed as a fraction of total carbon fixation (i.e., PP plus pDOC), percentage extracellular release (PER) was 14% on average (range 2-46%) for in situ measurements, with PER in the three bioassays having a very similar range (2-50%). A marked increase in pDOC (and PER) was only observed in one of the bioassays where nutrient levels (nitrate, silicic acid) dropped dramatically relative to starting (ambient) concentrations; no pCO2 treatment effect on pDOC (or PER) was evident across the three experiments. Examination of in situ net pDOC (and PER) found significant correlations with decreasing silicic acid and increasing euphotic zone depth, indicating that nutrient and light availability were strong drivers of the partitioning of primary production between particulate and dissolved phases. Furthermore, the third bioassay experiment had relatively high levels of diatom biomass as well as a strong response to nitrate and silicic acid depletion, and we suggest that nutrient starved or light limited diatom communities may be strong producers of DOC in Arctic ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-74
Number of pages15
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • Arctic Ocean
  • Bacteria
  • Diatoms
  • Dissolved organic carbon
  • Ocean acidification
  • Phytoplankton


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