Copper is an essential trace metal for different physiological processes in phytoplankton, being either a limiting or toxic element depending on its bioavailability, which may induce local physiological adaptations. Atmospheric Cu deposition to the oceans can negatively impact phytoplankton growth, with the most Cu-sensitive phytoplankton exhibiting differences based on coastal vs oceanic origin. The goal of this work was to analyze sensitivity to Cu toxicity of the cosmopolitan marine calcifying phytoplankton, Emiliania huxleyi, exploring what factors determine intraspecific variability in sensitivity. We compared 17 strains isolated from coastal and open ocean waters of the Eastern South Pacific (ESP), the Mediterranean Sea, and the Tasman Sea. Offshore strains were as sensitive to Cu than coastal strains. Sensitivity to Cu was explained well by predicted depositional inputs of atmospheric Cu in the ESP both for coastal and offshore strains, but not when considered globally. The variability in Cu sensitivity was also due to the production of organic Cu-ligands (CL), being the most productive strains the most tolerant to Cu at constitutive levels. When exposed to 100 nM Cu, E. huxteyi produced significantly higher amounts of CL, especially coastal strains, but CL production did not correlate to observed EC50s. (C) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.