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Quality–quantity trade-offs drive functional trait evolution in a model microalgal ‘climate change winner’

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Original languageEnglish
JournalEcology Letters
Early online date17 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Feb 2020


Phytoplankton are the unicellular photosynthetic microbes that form the base of aquatic ecosystems, and their responses to global change will impact everything from food web dynamics to global nutrient cycles. Some taxa respond to environmental change by increasing population growth rates in the short-term and are projected to increase in frequency over decades. To gain insight into how these projected ‘climate change winners’ evolve, we grew populations of microalgae in ameliorated environments for several hundred generations. Most populations evolved to allocate a smaller proportion of carbon to growth while increasing their ability to tolerate and metabolise reactive oxygen species (ROS). This trade-off drives the evolution of traits that underlie the ecological and biogeochemical roles of phytoplankton. This offers evolutionary and a metabolic frameworks for understanding trait evolution in projected ‘climate change winners’ and suggests that short-term population booms have the potential to be dampened or reversed when environmental amelioration persists.

    Research areas

  • Carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide, Chlamydomonas, experimental evolution, photosynthesis, phytoplankton bloom, primary production, Prodigal Son, reactive oxygen

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