Photosynthetic activity buffers ocean acidification in seagrass meadows

Macrophytes growing in shallow coastal zones characterized by intense metabolic activity have the capacity to modify pH within their canopy and beyond. We observed diel pH ranges is in shallow (5–12 m) seagrass (Posidonia oceanica) meadows from 0.06 pH units in September to 0.24 units in June. The carbonate system (pH, DIC, and aragonite saturation state (ΩAr) and O2 within the meadows displayed strong diel variability driven by primary productivity, and changes in chemistry were related to structural parameters of the meadow, in particular, the leaf surface area available for photosynthesis (LAI). LAI was positively correlated to mean and max pHNBS and max ΩAr. Oxygen production positively influenced the range and maximum pHNBS and the range of ΩAr. In June, vertical mixing (as Turbulent Kinetic Energy) influenced ΩAr, while in September there was no effect of hydrodynamics on the carbonate system within the canopy. ΩAr was positively correlated with the calcium carbonate load of the leaves, demonstrating a direct link between structural parameters, ΩAr and carbonate deposition.

There was a direct relationship between ΩAr, influenced directly by meadow LAI, and CaCO3 content of the leaves. Therefore, calcifying organisms, e.g. epiphytes with carbonate skeletons, might benefit from the modification of the carbonate system by the meadow. The meadow might be capable of providing refugia for calcifiers by increasing pH and ΩAr through metabolic activity. There is, however, concern for the ability of seagrasses to provide this refugia function in the future. The predicted decline of seagrass meadows may alter the scope for alteration of pH within a seagrass meadow and in the water column above the meadow, particularly if shoot density and biomass decline, both strongly linked to LAI. Organisms associated with seagrass communities may therefore suffer from the loss of pH buffering capacity in degraded meadows.

Hendriks I. E., Olsen Y. S., Ramajo L., Basso L., Steckbauer A., Moore T. S., Howard J. & Duarte C. M., 2013. Photosynthetic activity buffers ocean acidification in seagrass meadows. Biogeosciences Discussions 10: 12313-12346. Article.

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