Sensitivities of extant animal taxa to ocean acidification

Anthropogenic CO2 emitted to the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans, causing a progressive increase in ocean inorganic carbon concentrations and resulting in decreased water pH and calcium carbonate saturation. This phenomenon, called ocean acidification, is in addition to the warming effects of CO2 emissions. Ocean acidification has been reported to affect ocean biota, but the severity of this threat to ocean ecosystems (and humans depending on these ecosystems) is poorly understood. Here we evaluate the scale of this threat in the context of widely used representative concentration pathways (RCPs) by analysing the sensitivities of five animal taxa (corals, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans and fishes) to a wide range of CO2 concentrations. Corals, echinoderms and molluscs are more sensitive to RCP8.5 (936 ppm in 2100) than are crustaceans. Larval fishes may be even more sensitive than the lower invertebrates, but taxon sensitivity on evolutionary timescales remains obscure. The variety of responses within and between taxa, together with observations in mesocosms and palaeo-analogues, suggest that ocean acidification is a driver for substantial change in ocean ecosystems this century, potentially leading to long-term shifts in species composition.

Wittmann A. C. & Pörtner H.-O., in press. Sensitivities of extant animal taxa to ocean acidification. Nature Climate Change. Article (subscription required).

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