Étudiant-chercheur étoile August 2013

Étienne Low-Décarie

PhD student in Biology
Université McGill

Award-winning publication: Long-term culture at elevated atmospheric CO2 fails to evoke specific adaptation in seven freshwater phytoplankton species

Published in: Proceeding of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1754): 20122598


"The results of my study indicate that several species of freshwater phytoplankton will not evolve in response to the significant increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations that are expected to occur in the 21st century. This contradicts earlier research on a single species suggesting that, once exposed to high concentrations of CO2, phytoplankton would evolve and become "lazy", ingesting less carbon dioxide and becoming unable to grow in lower concentrations. Since evolutionary theories and experiments are almost exclusively based on organisms' adaptation to stress conditions, the study reveals the significance of understanding the capacity of organisms to adapt to increasingly favourable conditions."

Étienne Low-Décarie's work on the effects of the rise in atmospheric CO2 on phytoplankton species reveals that an evolutionary adaption to the high concentrations of carbon dioxide expected in the upcoming decades is improbable. The study also predicts how phytoplankton communities will change in time, thus helping to foresee the changes in the carbon cycle and aquatic ecosystems. The estimates based on current knowledge of phytoplankton physiology and ecology are therefore valid and could help society prepare for the eventual changes to phytoplankton communities, the ecosystems they thrive in and the global cycles they impact.