Ocean acidification accelerates reef bioerosion

In the recent discussion how biotic systems may react to ocean acidification caused by the rapid rise in carbon dioxide partial pressure (pCO2) in the marine realm, substantial research is devoted to calcifiers such as stony corals. The antagonistic process – biologically induced carbonate dissolution via bioerosion – has largely been neglected. Unlike skeletal growth, we expect bioerosion by chemical means to be facilitated in a high-CO2 world. This study focuses on one of the most detrimental bioeroders, the sponge Cliona orientalis, which attacks and kills live corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Experimental exposure to lowered and elevated levels of pCO2 confirms a significant enforcement of the sponges’ bioerosion capacity with increasing pCO2 under more acidic conditions. Considering the substantial contribution of sponges to carbonate bioerosion, this finding implies that tropical reef ecosystems are facing the combined effects of weakened coral calcification and accelerated bioerosion, resulting in critical pressure on the dynamic balance between biogenic carbonate build-up and degradation.

Wisshak M., Schönberg C. H. L., Form A. & Freiwald A., 2012. Ocean acidification accelerates reef bioerosion. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45124. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045124. Article.

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