Fast adaptation of tropical diatoms to increased warming with trade-offs

Peng Jin, Susana Agusti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Ocean warming with climate change is forcing marine organisms to shift their distributions polewards and phenology. In warm tropical seas, evolutionary adaptation by local species to warming will be crucial to avoid predicted desertification and reduction in diversity. However, little is known about the adaptation of phytoplankton in warm seas. Across the ocean, diatomic microalgae are the main primary producers in cold waters; they also contribute to tropical communities where they play a necessary role in the biological pump. Here we show that four species of diatoms isolated from the tropical Red Sea adapted to warming conditions (30 °C) after 200–600 generations by using various thermal strategies. Two of the warming adapted species increased their optimal growth temperature (Topt) and maximum growth rate. The other two diatoms did not increase Topt and growth, but shifted from specialist to generalist increasing their maximum critical thermal limit. Our data show that tropical diatoms can adapt to warming, although trade offs on photosynthetic efficiency, high irradiance stress, and lower growth rate could alter their competitive fitness. Our findings suggest that adaptive responses to warming among phytoplankton could help to arrest the sharp decline in diversity resulting from climate change that is predicted for tropical waters.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 11 2018

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): BAS/1/1072–01–01
Acknowledgements: We thank Carlos M. Duarte for his constructive comments on an early draft of this manuscript. We also thank Juan D. Martinez Ayala for his assistance in phytoplankton isolation and long-term culture maintenance and Veronica Chaidez for her help in generating Fig. S1. This study was funded by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) through baseline funding BAS/1/1072–01–01 to SA.


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