Food availability and pCO2 impacts on planulation, juvenile survival, and calcification of the azooxanthellate scleractinian coral, Balanophyllia elegans

Ocean acidification, the assimilation of atmospheric CO2 by the oceans that decreases the pH and CaCO3 saturation state (Ω) of seawater, is projected to have severe consequences for calcifying organisms. Strong evidence suggests that tropical reef-building corals containing algal symbionts (zooxanthellae) will experience dramatic declines in calcification over the next century. The responses of azooxanthellate corals to ocean acidification are less well understood, and because they cannot obtain extra photosynthetic energy from symbionts, they provide a system for studying the direct effects of acidification on the energy available for calcification. The orange cup coral Balanophyllia elegans is a solitary, azooxanthellate scleractinian species common on the California coast where it thrives in the low pH waters of an upwelling regime. During an 8 month study, we addressed the effects of three pCO2 treatments (410, 770, and 1230 μatm) and two feeding frequencies (High Food and Low Food) on adult Balanophyllia elegans planulation (larval release) rates, and on the survival, growth, and calcification of their juvenile offspring. Planulation rates were affected by food level but not pCO2, while juvenile survival was highest under 410 μatm and High Food conditions. Our results suggest that feeding rate has a greater impact on calcification of B. elegans than pCO2. Net calcification was positive even at 1230 μatm (~ 3 times current atmospheric pCO2), although the increase from 410 to 1230 μatm reduced overall calcification by ~ 25–45%, and reduced skeletal density by ~ 35–45%. Higher pCO2 also altered aragonite crystal morphology significantly. We discuss how feeding frequency affects azooxanthellate coral calcification, and how B. elegans may respond to ocean acidification in coastal upwelling waters.

Crook, E. D., Cooper, H., Potts, D. C., Lambert, T. & Paytan, A., 2013. Food availability and pCO2 impacts on planulation, juvenile survival, and calcification of the azooxanthellate scleractinian coral, Balanophyllia elegans. Biogeosciences Discussions 10: 7761-7783. Article.


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