Effects of nutrient enrichments on oligotrophic phytoplankton communities: a mesocosm experiment near Hawai‘i, USA

Daniela Böttjer-Wilson, Angelicque E. White, Karin M. Björkman, Matthew J. Church, Steve Poulos, Eric Shimabukuro, Yoshimi M. Rii, Andrea Ludwig, Klaus von Bröckel, Ulf Riebesell, Ricardo M. Letelier, David M. Karl

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A large-volume mesocosm-based nutrient perturbation experiment was conducted off the island of Hawai‘i, USA, to investigate the response of surface ocean phytoplankton communities to the addition of macronutrients, trace metals, and vitamins and to assess the feasibility of using mesocosms in the open ocean. Three free-drifting mesocosms (~60 m3) were deployed: one mesocosm served as a control (no nutrient amendments); a second (termed +P) was amended with nitrate (N), silicate (Si), phosphate (P), and a trace metal + vitamin mixture; and a third (termed −P) was amended with N, Si, and a trace metal + vitamin mixture but no P. These mesocosms were unreplicated due to logistical constraints and hence differences between treatments are qualitative. After 6 d, the largest response of the phytoplankton community was observed in the +P mesocosm, where chlorophyll a and 14C-based primary production were 2−3× greater than in the −P mesocosm and 4−6× greater than in the control. Comparison between mesocosm and ‘microcosm’ incubations (20 l) revealed differences in the magnitude and timing of production and marked differences in community structure with a reduced response of diatoms in microcosm treatments. Notably, we also observed pronounced declines in Prochlorococcus populations in all treatments, although these were greater in microcosms (up to 99%). Overall, this study confirmed the feasibility of deploying free-drifting mesocosms in the open ocean as a potentially powerful tool to investigate ecological impacts of nutrient perturbations and constitutes a valuable first step towards scaling plankton manipulation experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-183
Number of pages17
JournalAquatic Microbial Ecology
StatePublished - 2021


  • Mesocosm
  • North Pacific Subtropical Gyre
  • Nutrient dynamics
  • Phytoplankton


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