Ocean acidification and seaweed reproduction: increased CO2 ameliorates the negative effect of lowered pH on meiospore germination in the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera (Laminariales, Phaeophyceae)

The worldwide effects of ocean acidification (OA) on marine species are a growing concern. In temperate coastal seas, seaweeds are dominant primary producers that create complex habitats and supply energy to higher trophic levels. Studies on OA and macroalgae have focused on calcifying species and adult stages but, critically, they have overlooked the microscopic stages of the reproductive life cycle, which, for other anthropogenic stress e.g. UV-B radiation, are the most susceptible life-history phase. Also, environmental cues and stressors can cause changes in the sex ratio which has implications for the mating system and recruitment success. Here, we report the effects of pH (7.59–8.50) on meiospore germination and sex determination for the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera (Laminariales), in the presence and absence of additional dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC). Lowered pH (7.59–7.60, using HCl-only) caused a significant reduction in germination, while added DIC had the opposite effect, indicating that increased CO2 at lower pH ameliorates physiological stress. This finding also highlights the importance of appropriate manipulation of seawater carbonate chemistry when testing the effects of ocean acidification on photosynthetic organisms. The proportion of male to female gametophytes did not vary significantly between treatments suggesting that pH was not a primary environmental modulator of sex. Relative to the baseline (pH 8.19), gametophytes were 32% larger under moderate OA (pH 7.86) compared to their size (10% increase) under extreme OA (pH 7.61). This study suggests that metabolically-active cells can compensate for the acidification of seawater. This homeostatic function minimises the negative effects of lower pH (high H+ ions) on cellular activity. The 6–9% reduction in germination success under extreme OA suggests that meiospores of M. pyrifera may be resistant to future ocean acidification.

Roleda M. Y., Morris J. N., McGraw C. M., & Hurd C. L., in press. Ocean acidification and seaweed reproduction: increased CO2 ameliorates the negative effect of lowered pH on meiospore germination in the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera (Laminariales, Phaeophyceae). Global Change Biology doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02594.x. Article (subscription required).


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