Our present understanding of ocean acidification (OA) impacts on marine organisms caused by rapidly rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is almost entirely limited to single species responses. OA consequences for food web interactions are, however, still unknown. Indirect OA effects can be expected for consumers by changing the nutritional quality of their prey. We used a laboratory experiment to test potential OA effects on algal fatty acid (FA) composition and resulting copepod growth. We show that elevated CO2 significantly changed the FA concentration and composition of the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana, which constrained growth and reproduction of the copepod Acartia tonsa. A significant decline in both total FAs (28.1 to 17.4 fg cell−1) and the ratio of long-chain polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acids (PUFA:SFA) of food algae cultured under elevated (750 µatm) compared to present day (380 µatm) pCO2 was directly translated to copepods. The proportion of total essential FAs declined almost tenfold in copepods and the contribution of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) tripled at high CO2. This rapid and reversible CO2-dependent shift in FA concentration and composition caused a decrease in both copepod somatic growth and egg production from 34 to 5 eggs female−1 day−1. Because the diatom-copepod link supports some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, our study demonstrates that OA can have far-reaching consequences for ocean food webs by changing the nutritional quality of essential macromolecules in primary producers that cascade up the food web.
Rossoll D., Bermúdez R., Hauss H., Schulz K. G., Riebesell U., Sommer U. & Winder M., 2012. Ocean acidification-induced food quality deterioration constrains trophic transfer. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34737. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034737. Article.