A Global Pattern of Thermal Adaptation in Marine Phytoplankton

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Science  23 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6110, pp. 1085-1088
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224836

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Rising ocean temperatures will alter the productivity and composition of marine phytoplankton communities, thereby affecting global biogeochemical cycles. Predicting the effects of future ocean warming on biogeochemical cycles depends critically on understanding how existing global temperature variation affects phytoplankton. Here we show that variation in phytoplankton temperature optima over 150 degrees of latitude is well explained by a gradient in mean ocean temperature. An eco-evolutionary model predicts a similar relationship, suggesting that this pattern is the result of evolutionary adaptation. Using mechanistic species distribution models, we find that rising temperatures this century will cause poleward shifts in species’ thermal niches and a sharp decline in tropical phytoplankton diversity in the absence of an evolutionary response.

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