Marine viruses and global climate change


  • Editor: Corina Brussaard

Correspondence: Roberto Danovaro, Department of Marine Science, Polytechnic University of Marche, I-60131 Ancona, Italy. Tel.: +39 071 220 4654; fax: +39 071 220 4650; e-mail:


Sea-surface warming, sea-ice melting and related freshening, changes in circulation and mixing regimes, and ocean acidification induced by the present climate changes are modifying marine ecosystem structure and function and have the potential to alter the cycling of carbon and nutrients in surface oceans. Changing climate has direct and indirect consequences on marine viruses, including cascading effects on biogeochemical cycles, food webs, and the metabolic balance of the ocean. We discuss here a range of case studies of climate change and the potential consequences on virus function, viral assemblages and virus–host interactions. In turn, marine viruses influence directly and indirectly biogeochemical cycles, carbon sequestration capacity of the oceans and the gas exchange between the ocean surface and the atmosphere. We cannot yet predict whether the viruses will exacerbate or attenuate the magnitude of climate changes on marine ecosystems, but we provide evidence that marine viruses interact actively with the present climate change and are a key biotic component that is able to influence the oceans' feedback on climate change. Long-term and wide spatial-scale studies, and improved knowledge of host–virus dynamics in the world's oceans will permit the incorporation of the viral component into future ocean climate models and increase the accuracy of the predictions of the climate change impacts on the function of the oceans.