Calcifying marine phytoplankton - coccolithophores - are some of the most successful yet enigmatic organisms in the ocean, and are at risk from global change. In order to better understand how they will be affected we need to know 'why' coccolithophores calcify. Here we review coccolithophorid evolutionary history, cell biology, and insights from recent experiments to provide a critical assessment of the costs and benefits of calcification. We conclude that calcification has high energy demands, and that coccolithophores might have calcified initially to reduce grazing pressure, but that additional benefits such as protection from photo-damage and viral-bacterial attack further explain their high diversity and broad spectrum ecology. The cost-versus-benefit of these traits is illustrated by novel ecosystem modeling, although conclusive observations are still limited. In the future ocean, the trade-off between changing ecological and physiological costs of calcification and their benefits will ultimately decide how this important group is affected by ocean acidification and global warming.
- ecological and physiological costs and benefits
- ecosystem modeling