Predictability of thermal fluctuations influences functional traits of a cosmopolitan marine diatom

Raissa L. Gill, Sinead Collins, Phoebe A. Argyle, Michaela E. Larsson, Robert Fleck, Martina A. Doblin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Evolutionary theory predicts that organismal plasticity should evolve in environments that fluctuate regularly. However, in environments that fluctuate less predictably, plasticity may be constrained because environmental cues become less reliable for expressing the optimum phenotype. Here we examine how the predictability of +5 °C temperature fluctuations impacts the phenotype of the marine diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana. Thermal regimes were informed by temperatures experienced by microbes in an ocean simulation, and featured regular or irregular temporal sequences of fluctuations that induced mild physiological stress. Physiological traits (growth, cell size, complexity, pigmentation) were quantified at the individual cell level using flow cytometry. Changes in cellular complexity emerged as the first impact of predictability after only 8-11 days, followed by deleterious impacts on growth on days 13-16. Specifically, cells with a history of irregular fluctuation exposure exhibited a 50% reduction in growth compared with the stable reference environment, while growth was 3-18 times higher when fluctuations were regular. We observed no evidence of heat hardening (increasingly positive growth) with recurrent fluctuations. This study demonstrates that unpredictable temperature fluctuations impact this cosmopolitan diatom under ecologically-relevant time frames, suggesting shifts in environmental stochasticity under a changing climate could have widespread consequences amongst ocean primary producers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20212581
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Issue number1973
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • phytoplankton
  • diatoms
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • ocean warming
  • climate impact
  • primary production


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