Dynamic patterns and ecological impacts of declining ocean pH in a high-resolution multi-year dataset

Increasing global concentrations of atmospheric CO2 are predicted to decrease ocean pH, with potentially severe impacts on marine food webs, but empirical data documenting ocean pH over time are limited. In a high-resolution dataset spanning 8 years, pH at a north-temperate coastal site declined with increasing atmospheric CO2 levels and varied substantially in response to biological processes and physical conditions that fluctuate over multiple time scales. Applying a method to link environmental change to species dynamics via multispecies Markov chain models reveals strong links between in situ benthic species dynamics and variation in ocean pH, with calcareous species generally performing more poorly than noncalcareous species in years with low pH. The models project the long-term consequences of these dynamic changes, which predict substantial shifts in the species dominating the habitat as a consequence of both direct effects of reduced calcification and indirect effects arising from the web of species interactions. Our results indicate that pH decline is proceeding at a more rapid rate than previously predicted in some areas, and that this decline has ecological consequences for near shore benthic ecosystems.



Wootton J. T., Pfister C. A., & Forester J. D., in press. Dynamic patterns and ecological impacts of declining ocean pH in a high-resolution multi-year dataset. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Article. (Subscription required).

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