Community interactions dampen acidification effects in a coastal plankton system

Changing seawater chemistry towards reduced pH as a result of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is affecting oceanic organisms, particularly calcifying species. Responses of non-calcifying consumers are highly variable and mainly mediated through indirect ocean acidification effects induced by changing the biochemical content of their prey, as shown within single species and simple 2-trophic level systems. However, it can be expected that indirect CO2 impacts observed at the single species level are compensated at the ecosystem level by species richness and complex trophic interactions. A dampening of CO2-effects can be further expected for coastal communities adapted to strong natural fluctuations in pCO2, typical for productive coastal habitats. Here we show that a plankton community of the Kiel Fjord was tolerant to CO2 partial pressure (pCO2) levels projected for the end of this century (<1400 µatm), and only subtle differences were observed at the extremely high value of 4000 µatm. We found similar phyto- and microzooplankton biomass and copepod abundance and egg production across all CO2 treatment levels. Stoichiometric phytoplankton food quality was minimally different at the highest pCO2 treatment, but was far from being potentially limiting for copepods. These results are in contrast to studies that include only a single species, which observe strong indirect CO2 effects for herbivores and suggest limitations of biological responses at the level of organism to community. Although this coastal plankton community was highly tolerant to high fluctuations in pCO2, increase in hypoxia and CO2 uptake by the ocean can aggravate acidification and may lead to pH changes outside the range presently experienced by coastal organisms.

Rossoll D., Sommer U. & Winder M., 2013. Community interactions dampen acidification effects in a coastal plankton system. Marine Ecology Progress Series 486: 37-46. Article (subscription required).

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