Rhodolith beds are major CaCO3 bio-factories in the tropical South West Atlantic

Rhodoliths are nodules of non-geniculate coralline algae that occur in shallow waters (<150 m depth) subjected to episodic disturbance. Rhodolith beds stand with kelp beds, seagrass meadows, and coralline algal reefs as one of the world’s four largest macrophyte-dominated benthic communities. Geographic distribution of rhodolith beds is discontinuous, with large concentrations off Japan, Australia and the Gulf of California, as well as in the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, eastern Caribbean and Brazil. Although there are major gaps in terms of seabed habitat mapping, the largest rhodolith beds are purported to occur off Brazil, where these communities are recorded across a wide latitudinal range (2°N – 27°S). To quantify their extent, we carried out an inter-reefal seabed habitat survey on the Abrolhos Shelf (16°50′ – 19°45′S) off eastern Brazil, and confirmed the most expansive and contiguous rhodolith bed in the world, covering about 20,900 km2. Distribution, extent, composition and structure of this bed were assessed with side scan sonar, remotely operated vehicles, and SCUBA. The mean rate of CaCO3 production was estimated from in situ growth assays at 1.07 kg m−2 yr−1, with a total production rate of 0.025 Gt yr−1, comparable to those of the world’s largest biogenic CaCO3 deposits. These gigantic rhodolith beds, of areal extent equivalent to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, are a critical, yet poorly understood component of the tropical South Atlantic Ocean. Based on the relatively high vulnerability of coralline algae to ocean acidification, these beds are likely to experience a profound restructuring in the coming decades.

Amado-Filho G. M., Moura R. L., Bastos A. C., Salgado L. T., Sumida P. Y., Guth A. Z., Francini-Filho R. B., Pereira-Filho G. H., Abrantes D. P., Brasileiro P. S., Bahia R. G., Leal R. N., Kaufman L. , Kleypas J. A., Farina M. , & Thompson F. L., 2012. Rhodolith beds are major CaCO3 bio-factories in the tropical South West Atlantic. PLoS ONE 7(4): e35171. Article.

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