Can ocean acidification affect population dynamics of the barnacle Semibalanus balanoides at its southern range edge?

The global ocean and atmosphere are warming. There is increasing evidence suggesting that, in addition to other environmental factors, climate change is affecting species distributions and local population dynamics. Additionally, as a consequence of the growing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the oceans are taking up increasing amounts of this CO2, causing ocean pH to decrease (ocean acidification). The relative impacts of ocean acidification on population dynamics have yet to be investigated, despite many studies indicating that there will be at least a sublethal impact on many marine organisms, particularly key calcifying organisms. Using empirical data, we forced a barnacle (Semibalanus balanoides) population model to investigate the relative influence of sea surface temperature (SST) and ocean acidification on a population nearing the southern limit of its geographic distribution. Hindcast models were compared to observational data from Cellar Beach (southwestern United Kingdom). Results indicate that a declining pH trend (−0.0017 unit/yr), indicative of ocean acidification over the past 50 years, does not cause an observable impact on the population abundance relative to changes caused by fluctuations in temperature. Below the critical temperature (here Tcrit = 13.1°C), pH has a more significant affect on population dynamics at this southern range edge. However, above this value, SST has the overriding influence. At lower SST, a decrease in pH (according to the National Bureau of Standards, pHNBS) from 8.2 to 7.8 can significantly decrease the population abundance. The lethal impacts of ocean acidification observed in experiments on early life stages reduce cumulative survival by ~25%, which again will significantly alter the population level at this southern limit. Furthermore, forecast predictions from this model suggest that combined acidification and warming cause this local population to die out 10 years earlier than would occur if there was only global warming and no concomitant decrease in pH.

Findlay, H. S., Burrows, M. T., Kendall, M. A., Spicer, J. I., & Widdicombe, S., 2010. Can ocean acidification affect population dynamics of the barnacle Semibalanus balanoides at its southern range edge? Ecology 9(10):2931-2940. Article (subscription required).


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