Relating coccolithophore calcification rates to phytoplankton community dynamics: Regional differences and implications for carbon export

Alex J. Poulton*, Tim R. Adey, William M. Balch, Patrick M. Holligan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Citations (Scopus)


Recent measurements of surface coccolithophore calcification from the Atlantic Ocean (50°N-50°S) are compared to similar measurements from other oceanic settings. By combining the different data sets of surface measurements, we examine general and regional patterns of calcification relative to organic carbon production (photosynthesis) and other characteristics of the phytoplankton community. Generally, surface calcification and photosynthesis are positively correlated, although the strength of the relationship differs between biogeochemical provinces. Relationships between surface calcification, chlorophyll-a and calcite concentrations are also statistically significant, although again there is considerable regional variability. Such variability appears unrelated to phytoplankton community composition or hydrographic conditions, and may instead reflect variations in coccolithophore physiology. The contribution of inorganic carbon fixation (calcification) to total carbon fixation (calcification plus photosynthesis) is ∼1-10%, and we estimate a similar contribution from coccolithophores to total organic carbon fixation. However, these contributions vary between biogeochemical provinces, and occasionally coccolithophores may account for >20% of total carbon fixation in unproductive central subtropical gyres. Combining surface calcification and photosynthetic rates with standing stocks of calcite, particulate organic carbon, and estimated phytoplankton carbon allows us to examine the fates of these three carbon pools. The relative turnover times vary between different biogeochemical provinces, with no clear relationship to the overall productivity or phytoplankton community structure found in each province. Rather, interaction between coccolithophore physiology (coccolith production and detachment rates), species diversity (cell size), and food web dynamics (grazer ecology) may control the composition and turnover times of calcite particles in the upper ocean.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)538-557
Number of pages20
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Issue number5-7
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • Atlantic Meridional Transect
  • Ballast
  • Calcification
  • Calcite
  • Coccolithophores
  • Photosynthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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