Species-specific consequences of ocean acidification for the calcareous tropical green algae Halimeda

Ocean acidification (OA), resulting from increasing dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) in surface waters, is likely to affect many marine organisms, particularly those that calcify. Recent OA studies have demonstrated negative and/or differential effects of reduced pH on growth, development, calcification and physiology, but most of these have focused on taxa other than calcareous benthic macroalgae. Here we investigate the potential effects of OA on one of the most common coral reef macroalgal genera, Halimeda. Species of Halimeda produce a large proportion of the sand in the tropics and are a major contributor to framework development on reefs because of their rapid calcium carbonate production and high turnover rates. On Palmyra Atoll in the central Pacific, we conducted a manipulative bubbling experiment to investigate the potential effects of OA on growth, calcification and photophysiology of 2 species of Halimeda. Our results suggest that Halimeda is highly susceptible to reduced pH and aragonite saturation state but the magnitude of these effects is species specific. H. opuntia suffered net dissolution and 15% reduction in photosynthetic capacity, while H. taenicola did not calcify but did not alter photophysiology in experimental treatments. The disparate responses of these species to elevated CO2 partial ­pressure (pCO2) may be due to anatomical and physiological differences and could represent a shift in their relative dominance in the face of OA. The ability for a species to exert biological control over calcification and the species specific role of the carbonate skeleton may have important implications for the potential effects of OA on ecological function in the future.

Price N. N., Hamilton S. L., Tootell J. S., & Smith J. E., 2011. Species-specific consequences of ocean acidification for the calcareous tropical green algae Halimeda. Marine Ecology Progress Series 440:67-78. Article (subscription required).


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