Effects of seawater pCO2 changes on the calcifying fluid of scleractinian corals

Rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations due to anthropogenic emissions induce changes in the ocean carbonate chemistry and a drop in ocean pH. This acidification process is expected to harm calcifying organisms like coccolithophores, molluscs, echinoderms, and corals. A severe decline in coral abundance is, for example, expected by the end of this century with associated disastrous effects on reef ecosystems. Despite the growing importance of the topic, little progress has been made with respect to modelling the impact of acidification on coral calcification. Here we present a model for a coral polyp that simulates the carbonate system in four different compartments: the seawater, the polyp tissue, the coelenteron, and the calicoblastic layer. Precipitation of calcium carbonate takes place in the metabolically controlled calicoblastic layer beneath the polyp tissue. The model is adjusted to a state of activity as observed by direct microsensor measurements in the calcifying fluid. Simulated CO2 perturbation experiments reveal decreasing calcification rates under elevated pCO2 despite strong metabolic control of the calcifying fluid. Diffusion of CO2 through the tissue into the calicoblastic layer increases with increasing seawater pCO2 leading to decreased aragonite saturation in the calcifying fluid of the coral polyp. Our modelling study provides important insights into the complexity of the calcification process at the organism level and helps to quantify the effect of ocean acidification on corals.

Hohn S., & Merico A., 2012. Effects of seawater pCO2 changes on the calcifying fluid of scleractinian corals. Biogeosciences Discussions 9(3):2655-2689. Article.

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