Effects of ocean acidification on early life history stages of Caribbean scleractinian corals

Ocean acidification (OA) refers to the increase in acidity (decrease in pH) of the ocean’s surface waters resulting from oceanic uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Mounting experimental evidence suggests that OA threatens numerous marine organisms, including reef-building corals; however, few studies have focused on the effects on early life history stages. Coral recruitment is critical to the persistence and resilience of coral reefs and is regulated by several early life processes, including: larval availability (gamete production, fertilization, etc.), larval settlement, post-settlement growth, and survival. Environmental factors that disrupt these early life processes can result in compromised or failed recruitment and profoundly affect future population dynamics. To evaluate the effects of OA on the sexual recruitment of corals, sexual reproduction (including fertilization and sperm swimming speeds) and several critical early life history stages (including larval metabolism, larval settlement, and post-settlement growth) were tested in common Caribbean coral species. Three pCO2 levels were used: ambient seawater (380 µatm) and two pCO2 scenarios that are projected to occur by the middle (560 µatm) and end (800 µatm) of the century as determined by the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change. Results show that fertilization success, larval metabolic rates, larval settlement rates, and post-settlement growth rates are all compromised with increasing pCO2. This dissertation demonstrates that OA has the potential to negatively impact sexual reproduction and multiple early life history processes of several common Caribbean coral species and may contribute to substantial declines in sexual recruitment that are felt at the community and/or ecosystem scale.

Albright, Rebecca, “Effects of Ocean Acidification on Early Life History Stages of Caribbean Scleractinian Corals” (2011). Open Access Dissertations. Paper 574. Dissertation.

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