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Eco-evolutionary responses of the microbial loop to surface ocean warming and consequences for primary production

Philippe Cherabier, Régis Ferrière


Predicting the response of ocean primary production to climate warming is a major challenge. One key control of primary production is the microbial loop driven by heterotrophic bacteria, yet how warming alters the microbial loop and its function is poorly understood. Here we develop an eco-evolutionary model to predict the physiological response and adaptation through selection of bacterial populations in the microbial loop and how this will impact ecosystem function such as primary production. We find that the ecophysiological response of primary production to warming is driven by a decrease in regenerated production which depends on nutrient availability. In nutrient-poor environments, the loss of regenerated production to warming is due to decreasing microbial loop activity. However, this ecophysiological response can be opposed or even reversed by bacterial adaptation through selection, especially in cold environments : heterotrophic bacteria with lower bacterial growth efficiency are selected, which strengthens the “link” behavior of the microbial loop, increasing both new and regenerated production. In cold and rich environments such as the Arctic Ocean, the effect of bacterial adaptation on primary production exceeds the ecophysiological response. Accounting for bacterial adaptation through selection is thus critically needed to improve models and projections of the ocean primary production in a warming world.

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ISME Journal (2021)