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Nature Communications








Marine phytoplankton generate half of global primary production, making them essential to ecosystem functioning and biogeochemical cycling. Though phytoplankton are phylogenetically diverse, studies rarely designate unique thermal traits to different taxa, resulting in coarse representations of phytoplankton thermal responses. Here we assessed phytoplankton functional responses to temperature using empirically derived thermal growth rates from four principal contributors to marine productivity: diatoms, dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria, and coccolithophores. Using modeled sea surface temperatures for 1950-1970 and 2080-2100, we explored potential alterations to each group's growth rates and geographical distribution under a future climate change scenario. Contrary to the commonly applied Eppley formulation, our data suggest phytoplankton functional types may be characterized by different temperature coefficients (Q(10)), growth maxima thermal dependencies, and thermal ranges which would drive dissimilar responses to each degree of temperature change. These differences, when applied in response to global simulations of future temperature, result in taxon-specific projections of growth and geographic distribution, with low-latitude coccolithophores facing considerable decreases and cyanobacteria substantial increases in growth rates. These results suggest that the singular effect of changing temperature may alter phytoplankton global community structure, owing to the significant variability in thermal response between phytoplankton functional types. Phytoplankton communities are important players in biogeochemical processes, but are sensitive to global warming. Here, a meta-analysis shows how the varied responses of phytoplankton to rising temperatures could potentially alter growth dynamics and community structure in a future ocean.


© The Author(s) 2021

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Data Availability

Article states: "Phytoplankton growth rates from this study (, derived thermal capacities (, and estimated thermal traits ( have been made available through the Biological and Chemical Ocean Data Management Office (BCO-DMO). Source data are provided with this paper."

"Code to reproduce this analyses is available on GitHub ( and in an online archive at Zenodo79."

Source data referenced in the article can be downloaded from the online version of the article, which is available at The Zenodo link as referenced in the article (reference 79) is

Original Publication Citation

Anderson, S. I., Barton, A. D., Clayton, S., Dutkiewicz, S., & Rynearson, T. A. (2021). Marine phytoplankton functional types exhibit diverse responses to thermal change. Nature Communications, 12(1), 1-9, Article 6413.


0000-0001-7473-4873 (Clayton)