Stress-tolerant corals of Florida Bay are vulnerable to ocean acidification

In situ calcification measurements tested the hypothesis that corals from environments (Florida Bay, USA) that naturally experience large swings in pCO2 and pH will be tolerant or less sensitive to ocean acidification than species from laboratory experiments with less variable carbonate chemistry. The pCO2 in Florida Bay varies from summer to winter by several hundred ppm roughly comparable to the increase predicted by the end of the century. Rates of net photosynthesis and calcification of two stress-tolerant coral species, Siderastrea radians and Solenastrea hyades, were measured under the prevailing ambient chemical conditions and under conditions amended to simulate a pH drop of 0.1–0.2 units at bimonthly intervals over a 2-yr period. Net photosynthesis was not changed by the elevation in pCO2 and drop in pH; however, calcification declined by 52 and 50 % per unit decrease in saturation state, respectively. These results indicate that the calcification rates of S. radians and S. hyades are just as sensitive to a reduction in saturation state as coral species that have been previously studied. In other words, stress tolerance to temperature and salinity extremes as well as regular exposure to large swings in pCO2 and pH did not make them any less sensitive to ocean acidification. These two species likely survive in Florida Bay in part because they devote proportionately less energy to calcification than most other species and the average saturation state is elevated relative to that of nearby offshore water due to high rates of primary production by seagrasses.

Okazaki R. R., Swart P. K. & Langdon C., in press. Stress-tolerant corals of Florida Bay are vulnerable to ocean acidification. Coral Reefs. Article (subscription required).

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