Temperate reefs in a changing ocean: skeletal carbonate mineralogy of serpulids

We present a review of the published data about serpulid skeletal carbonate geochemistry, augmented with new data from the Southern Hemisphere. We know something about skeletal carbonate mineralogy of 15 % of extant species (n = 52); and about half of extant genera (n = 25). Serpulid worm tubes vary in their skeletal mineralogy from entirely aragonitic (about 24 % of species) to entirely high-Mg calcite (40 %) to mixtures of the two. Mg in calcite ranges from 7 to 15 wt% MgCO3, with a mean of 11 wt% MgCO3. Little mineralogical variation within individuals or species can be found in aragonitic specimens, whereas high-Mg calcitic species show somewhat more variability in both calcite and Mg content, and those with mixed mineralogies are highly variable. These three groups correspond broadly with currently accepted clades. Given this strong phylogenetic signal, we analysed the data using phylogenetically independent contrasts, a statistical approach that separates genotypic from phenotypic variability; we found that variations which might be ascribed to environment were generally weak. The mineralogy of serpulid tubes makes them particularly vulnerable to ocean chemistry changes. While some serpulids appear to be able to adjust their tube mineralogy in order to adapt to sea-water chemistry, overall strength and elasticity may be sacrificed when they do. The biodiverse reef habitat provided by serpulids in some temperate regions may be the only complex solid habitat available, and loss or compromise of these temperate reefs will most likely have deleterious flow-on effects on temperate benthic communities.

Smith A. M., Andri Riedi M. & Winter D. J., in press. Temperate reefs in a changing ocean: skeletal carbonate mineralogy of serpulids. Marine Biology. Article (subscription required).

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