Stoichiometric mismatch between phytoplankton and zooplankton under climate warming and eutrophication

Published 07 September, 2023

Climate warming and eutrophication have emerged as prominent drivers of global change, posing threats to aquatic ecosystems. Under these ongoing environmental changes, phytoplankton and zooplankton may exhibit divergent responses and result in stoichiometric mismatches between phytoplankton and zooplankton. This imbalance, as a result, constrains the upward flow of energy within trophic hierarchies. The extent to which climate warming, eutrophication or their interplay intensify these imbalanced elemental ratios between phytoplankton and zooplankton, however, remains unclear.

To investigate this, a team of researchers in China conducted a mesocosm experiment to simulate natural shallow lakes. In a full factorial design, they introduced controlled factors of climate warming (with a consistent temperature rise of 3.5 °C accompanied by heat waves) and eutrophication (via nutrient enrichment).

They observed a growing trend in the stoichiometric mismatch when climate warming or eutrophication acted individually, which was mediated by an increase in nutrient demand by zooplankton for growth. However, when these stressors acted jointly, the mismatch was reversed.

"This phenomenon might be attributed to the tandem influence of climate warming and eutrophication altering the composition of zooplankton species, consequently reshaping the overall stoichiometric configuration within the community,” shared lead author of the study, Konghao Zhu.

The researchers emphasized that previous studies have primarily focused on the stoichiometric mismatch from a unilateral perspective of phytoplankton or zooplankton, but this mismatch is caused by a combination of changes in phytoplankton and zooplankton.

“This sutdy offered a dual perspective of phytoplankton and zooplankton on the stoichiometric mismatch and revealed the changes in the stoichiometric mismatch between phytoplankton and zooplankton under climate warming and eutrophication,” added Zhu.

Another challenge came to light during the study. While cross-trophic level stoichiometry enhances comprehension of trophic relationships, it falls short in elucidating the underlying causes of stoichiometric mismatch changes. This limitation arises from the fact that environmental stressors frequently trigger modifications in species composition, consequently introducing complexities to community-level stoichiometry.

“Therefore, understanding the effects of global change on trophic relationships through stoichiometric mismatch requires consideration not only of cross-trophic levels but also of compositional changes within communities,” concluded Zhu.

Climate warming and eutrophication individually induced an increasing trend in the stoichiometric mismatch between phytoplankton and zooplankton. While climate warming and eutrophication acting jointly reversed this mismatch. Created by the authors.

Contact author name, affiliation, email address: Konghao Zhu, State Key Laboratory of Freshwater Ecology and Biotechnology of China, Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Wuhan, 430072, China.

Funder: National Natural Science Foundation of China [grant numbers 32171515, 31800389]; Hundred-Talent Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; and International Cooperation Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences [grant numbers 152342KYSB20190025].

Conflict of interest: The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper. Jun Xu is an editorial board member for Water Biology and Security and was not involved in the editorial review or the decision to publish this article. 

See the articleZhu, K., et al., Interactive effects of warming and eutrophication on zooplankton could reverse the stoichiometric mismatch with phytoplankton. Water Biology and Security, 2023. 2: 100205.

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