Coral calcification responds to seawater acidification: a working hypothesis towards a physiological mechanism

The decrease in the saturation state of seawater, Ω, following seawater acidification, is believed to be the main factor leading to a decrease in the calcification of marine organisms. To provide a physiological explanation for this phenomenon, the effect of seawater acidification was studied on the calcification and photosynthesis of the scleractinian tropical coral Stylophora pistillata. Coral nubbins were incubated for 8 days at three different pH (7.6, 8.0, and 8.2). To differentiate between the effects of the various components of the carbonate chemistry (pH, CO32−, HCO3−, CO2, Ω), tanks were also maintained under similar pH, but with 2-mM HCO3− added to the seawater. The addition of 2-mM bicarbonate significantly increased the photosynthesis in S. pistillata, suggesting carbon-limited conditions. Conversely, photosynthesis was insensitive to changes in pH and pCO2. Seawater acidification decreased coral calcification by ca. 0.1-mg CaCO3 g−1 d−1 for a decrease of 0.1 pH units. This correlation suggested that seawater acidification affected coral calcification by decreasing the availability of the CO32− substrate for calcification. However, the decrease in coral calcification could also be attributed either to a decrease in extra- or intracellular pH or to a change in the buffering capacity of the medium, impairing supply of CO32− from HCO3−.



Marubini F., Ferrier-Pagès C., Furla P., & Allemand D., 2008. Coral calcification responds to seawater acidification: a working hypothesis towards a physiological mechanism. Coral Reefs 27:491-499. Article (subscription required).

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