Antarctic echinoids and climate change: a major impact on the brooding forms

Ocean acidification (OA) and the accompanying changes to carbonate concentrations are predicted to have especially negative impacts in the Southern Ocean where, as a result of colder temperatures, there will be shallowing of both the aragonite (ASH) and calcite saturation horizons (CSH). Echinoids are a dominant group of the Antarctic macrofauna which, because of their high-Mg calcite skeleton, are particularly susceptible to changes in the ASH. Using published information on the bathymetric distributions of Antarctic echinoids, we show that the majority of heavily calcified echinoids have their lower bathymetric limit above a depth of ca. 3000 m, approximately the current depth of the CSH. Echinoids whose depth range extends below 3000 m generally have thin, weakly calcified tests and include species from the Order Holasteroida, and the Families Cidaridae and Schizasteridae. Examination of the reproductive mode of Antarctic echinoids shows that brooding, where calcification of the young occurs in the same CaCO3 environment as the mother, is primarily found at a depth above 3000 m. The predicted shallowing of the ASH and CSH under OA conditions is likely to negatively impact growth and reproduction of heavily calcified brooders in the Family Cidaridae, which may result in changes to bathymetric ranges, local population extinction, and associated losses in macrofaunal biodiversity. As with other calcified deep sea invertebrates, echinoids may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of increased CO2 and OA in the Southern Ocean.

Sewell M. A. & Hofmann G. E., 2011. Antarctic echinoids and climate change: a major impact on the brooding forms. Global Change Biology 17(2): 734–744. Article (subscription required).

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