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Effects of ocean acidification on the growth, photosynthetic performance, and domoic acid production of the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia australis from the California Current System

Citation: Charles J. Wingert, William P. Cochlan, Effects of ocean acidification on the growth, photosynthetic performance, and domoic acid production of the diatom Pseudo-nitzschia australis from the California Current System, Harmful Algae, Volume 107, 2021, 102030, ISSN 1568-9883,

Pseudo-nitzschia australis (Frenguelli), a toxigenic pennate diatom capable of producing the neurotoxin domoic acid (DA), was examined in unialgal laboratory cultures to quantify its physiological response to ocean acidification (OA) – the decline in pH resulting from increasing partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) in the oceans. Toxic blooms of P. australis are common in the coastal waters of eastern boundary upwelling systems (EBUS), including those of the California Current System (CCS) off the west coast of the United States where increased pCO2 and decreased seawater pH are well-known. This study determined the production of dissolved (dDA) and particulate DA (pDA), the rates of growth and nutrient (nitrate, silicate and phosphate) utilization, cellular elemental ratios of carbon and nitrogen, and the photosynthetic response to declining pH during the exponential and stationary growth phases of a strain of P. australis isolated during a massive toxic bloom that persisted for months along much of the U.S. west coast during 2015. Our controlled lab studies showed that DA production significantly increased as pCO2 increased, and total DA (pDA + dDA) normalized to cell density was 2.7 fold greater at pH 7.8 compared to pH 8.1 (control) during nutrient-limited stationary growth. However, exponential growth rates did not increase with declining pH, but remained constant until pH of 7.8 was reached, and then specific growth rates declined by ca. 30%. The toxin results demonstrate that despite minimal effects of OA observed during the nutrient-replete exponential growth phase, the enhancement of DA production, notably the 3-fold increase in particulate DA per cell, with declining pH from 8.1 to 7.8 during the nutrient-depleted stationary phase, supports the hypothesis that increasing pCO2 will result in greater toxic risk to coastal ecosystems from elevated ambient concentrations of particulate DA. The ecological consequences of decreasing silicate uptake rates and increasing cellular carbon quotas with declining pH may potentially ameliorate some negative impacts of OA on Pseudo-nitzschia growth in natural systems.

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The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:


Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare


Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
       More for Taking Community Action