P. Jin, S. Agusti
Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 17771, (2018)
Ocean warming with climate change is forcing marine organisms to shift their distributions polewards and phenology. In warm tropical seas, evolutionary adaptation by local species to warming will be crucial to avoid predicted desertification and reduction in diversity. However, little is known about the adaptation of phytoplankton in warm seas. Across the ocean, diatomic microalgae are the main primary producers in cold waters; they also contribute to tropical communities where they play a necessary role in the biological pump. Here we show that four species of diatoms isolated from the tropical Red Sea adapted to warming conditions (30 °C) after 200–600 generations by using various thermal strategies. Two of the warming adapted species increased their optimal growth temperature (Topt) and maximum growth rate. The other two diatoms did not increase Topt and growth, but shifted from specialist to generalist increasing their maximum critical thermal limit. Our data show that tropical diatoms can adapt to warming, although trade offs on photosynthetic efficiency, high irradiance stress, and lower growth rate could alter their competitive fitness. Our findings suggest that adaptive responses to warming among phytoplankton could help to arrest the sharp decline in diversity resulting from climate change that is predicted for tropical waters.