Reduced calcification and lack of acclimatization by coral colonies growing in areas of persistent natural acidification

As the surface ocean equilibrates with rising atmospheric CO2, the pH of surface seawater is decreasing with potentially negative impacts on coral calcification. A critical question is whether corals will be able to adapt or acclimate to these changes in seawater chemistry. We use high precision CT scanning of skeletal cores of Porites astreoides, an important Caribbean reef-building coral, to show that calcification rates decrease significantly along a natural gradient in pH and aragonite saturation (Ωarag). This decrease is accompanied by an increase in skeletal erosion and predation by boring organisms. The degree of sensitivity to reduced Ωarag measured on our field corals is consistent with that exhibited by the same species in laboratory CO2 manipulation experiments. We conclude that the Porites corals at our field site were not able to acclimatize enough to prevent the impacts of local ocean acidification on their skeletal growth and development, despite spending their entire lifespan in low pH, low Ωarag seawater.

Crook E. D., Cohen A. L., Rebolledo-Vieyra M., Hernandez L. & Paytan A., in press. Reduced calcification and lack of acclimatization by coral colonies growing in areas of persistent natural acidification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Article (subscription required).


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