The basics of acidification: baseline variability of pH on Australian coral reefs

Ocean acidification is one of the key threats facing coral reef ecosystems, but there are few estimates of spatial and temporal variability in pH among reef habitats. The present study documents levels of spatial variability in pH among coral reef habitats (9 to 10), among locations separated by 100’s km of latitude and between east (Great Barrier Reef, GBR) and west (Ningaloo Reef) coasts of Australia. Differences were found in pH between inshore and offshore waters along Ningaloo Reef (means 8.45, 8.53, respectively). Replicate assessments here ranged from 8.22 to 8.64. On the GBR, the range of values over all habitats and replicates was 0.39 pH units (7.98 to 8.37). There were minor but significant differences of 0.05 pH units between 5 consecutive days for habitats on average. Highest pH was recorded in filamentous algal beds maintained by the damselfish Dischistodus perspicillatus. Lowest pH was found in water extracted from sand-dwelling goby holes. While there were marked changes in pH over a 48-h sampling period among 4 habitats at Lizard Island (GBR), there was little evidence of a diel trend. Understanding how pH varies at scales that are relevant to organisms that live on shallow coral reefs is crucial for the design and interpretation of experiments that test the effects on organisms of the changes in water chemistry predicted to affect oceans in the future.

Gagliano, M., McCormick, M. I., Moore, J. A. & Depczynski, M., 2010. The basics of acidification: baseline variability of pH on Australian coral reefs. Marine Biology 157(8):1849-1856. Article (subscription required).

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