Occurrence of a cold-water coral along natural pH gradients (Patagonia, Chile)

Increasing dissolution of anthropogenic-released carbon dioxide into the world’s oceans is causing ocean acidification (OA). OA is thought to negatively affect most marine-calcifying organisms, notably cold-water corals (CWC), which may be especially sensitive due to the deep and cold waters they normally thrive in. However, the impact of OA on CWC is difficult to predict. Recorded distributions of CWC are rarely linked to in situ water chemistry, and the boundaries of their distributions are not clearly defined. The fjord Comau in Chilean Patagonia features pronounced pH gradients, and up to 0.5 pH units have been recorded both vertically (at some sites within 50 m depth) and less distinct horizontally (from head to mouth). The cosmopolite coral Desmophyllum dianthus grows along the course of the fjord and of the entire pH range. It occurs in shallow depths (below 12 m, pH 8.1) as part of a deep-water emergence community, but also in 225 m depth at a pH of 7.4. Based on pH and total alkalinity, data calculations of the associated carbonate chemistry revealed that this CWC thrives commonly close the aragonite (the orthogonal crystal form of calcium carbonate, the mineral structure of coral skeletons) saturation horizon and even below. This suggests a high adaptation potential of D. dianthus to adjust its calcification performance to conditions thermodynamically unfavourable for the precipitation of aragonite.

Jantzen C., Häussermann V., Försterra G., Laudien J., Ardelan M., Maier S. & Richter C., in press. Occurrence of a cold-water coral along natural pH gradients (Patagonia, Chile). Marine Biology. Article (subscription required).

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