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Keywords:

  • Acclimation;
  • artificial community;
  • climate change;
  • competition;
  • dinoflagellate community;
  • ocean acidification

Increasing pCO2 (partial pressure of CO2) in an “acidified” ocean will affect phytoplankton community structure, but manipulation experiments with assemblages briefly acclimated to simulated future conditions may not accurately predict the long-term evolutionary shifts that could affect inter-specific competitive success. We assessed community structure changes in a natural mixed dinoflagellate bloom incubated at three pCO2 levels (230, 433, and 765 ppm) in a short-term experiment (2 weeks). The four dominant species were then isolated from each treatment into clonal cultures, and maintained at all three pCO2 levels for approximately 1 year. Periodically (4, 8, and 12 months), these pCO2-conditioned clones were recombined into artificial communities, and allowed to compete at their conditioning pCO2 level or at higher and lower levels. The dominant species in these artificial communities of CO2-conditioned clones differed from those in the original short-term experiment, but individual species relative abundance trends across pCO2 treatments were often similar. Specific growth rates showed no strong evidence for fitness increases attributable to conditioning pCO2 level. Although pCO2 significantly structured our experimental communities, conditioning time and biotic interactions like mixotrophy also had major roles in determining competitive outcomes. New methods of carrying out extended mixed species experiments are needed to accurately predict future long-term phytoplankton community responses to changing pCO2.