The direct effects of increasing CO2 and temperature on non-calcifying organisms: increasing the potential for phase shifts in kelp forests

Predictions about the ecological consequences of oceanic uptake of CO2 have been preoccupied with the effects of ocean acidification on calcifying organisms, particularly those critical to the formation of habitats (e.g. coral reefs) or their maintenance (e.g. grazing echinoderms). This focus overlooks the direct effects of CO2 on non-calcareous taxa, particularly those that play critical roles in ecosystem shifts. We used two experiments to investigate whether increased CO2 could exacerbate kelp loss by facilitating non-calcareous algae that, we hypothesized, (i) inhibit the recovery of kelp forests on an urbanized coast, and (ii) form more extensive covers and greater biomass under moderate future CO2 and associated temperature increases. Our experimental removal of turfs from a phase-shifted system (i.e. kelp- to turf-dominated) revealed that the number of kelp recruits increased, thereby indicating that turfs can inhibit kelp recruitment. Future CO2 and temperature interacted synergistically to have a positive effect on the abundance of algal turfs, whereby they had twice the biomass and occupied over four times more available space than under current conditions. We suggest that the current preoccupation with the negative effects of ocean acidification on marine calcifiers overlooks potentially profound effects of increasing CO2 and temperature on non-calcifying organisms.

Connell, S. D., & Russell, B. D., 2010. The direct effects of increasing CO2 and temperature on non-calcifying organisms: increasing the potential for phase shifts in kelp forests. Proceedings of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277(1686):1409-1415. Article (subscription required).

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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