Archive for August, 2013



Effects of acidification on olfactory-mediated behaviour in freshwater and marine ecosystems: a synthesis

For many aquatic organisms, olfactory-mediated behaviour is essential to the maintenance of numerous fitness-enhancing activities, including foraging, reproduction and predator avoidance. Studies in both freshwater and marine ecosystems have demonstrated significant impacts of anthropogenic acidification on olfactory abilities of fish and macroinvertebrates, leading to impaired behavioural responses, with potentially far-reaching consequences to population dynamics and community structure. Whereas the ecological impacts of impaired olfactory-mediated behaviour may be similar between freshwater and marine ecosystems, the underlying mechanisms are quite distinct. In acidified freshwater, molecular change to chemical cues along with reduced olfaction sensitivity appear to be the primary causes of olfactory-mediated behavioural impairment. By contrast, experiments simulating future ocean acidification suggest that interference of high CO2 with brain neurotransmitter function is the primary cause for olfactory-mediated behavioural impairment in fish. Different physico-chemical characteristics between marine and freshwater systems are probably responsible for these distinct mechanisms of impairment, which, under globally rising CO2 levels, may lead to strikingly different consequences to olfaction. While fluctuations in pH may occur in both freshwater and marine ecosystems, marine habitat will remain alkaline despite future ocean acidification caused by globally rising CO2 levels. In this synthesis, we argue that ecosystem-specific mechanisms affecting olfaction need to be considered for effective management and conservation practices.

Continue reading ‘Effects of acidification on olfactory-mediated behaviour in freshwater and marine ecosystems: a synthesis’

Ocean acidification and rising temperatures may increase biofilm primary productivity but decrease grazer consumption

Climate change may cause ecosystems to become trophically restructured as a result of primary producers and consumers responding differently to increasing CO2 and temperature. This study used an integrative approach using a controlled microcosm experiment to investigate the combined effects of CO2 and temperature on key components of the intertidal system in the UK, biofilms and their consumers (Littorina littorea). In addition, to identify whether pre-exposure to experimental conditions can alter experimental outcomes we explicitly tested for differential effects on L. littorea pre-exposed to experimental conditions for two weeks and five months. In contrast to predictions based on metabolic theory, the combination of elevated temperature and CO2 over a five-week period caused a decrease in the amount of primary productivity consumed by grazers, while the abundance of biofilms increased. However, long-term pre-exposure to experimental conditions (five months) altered this effect, with grazing rates in these animals being greater than in animals exposed only for two weeks. We suggest that the structure of future ecosystems may not be predictable using short-term laboratory experiments alone owing to potentially confounding effects of exposure time and effects of being held in an artificial environment over prolonged time periods. A combination of laboratory (physiology responses) and large, long-term experiments (ecosystem responses) may therefore be necessary to adequately predict the complex and interactive effects of climate change as organisms may acclimate to conditions over the longer term.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification and rising temperatures may increase biofilm primary productivity but decrease grazer consumption’

Short- and long-term conditioning of a temperate marine diatom community to acidification and warming

Ocean acidification and greenhouse warming will interactively influence competitive success of key phytoplankton groups such as diatoms, but how long-term responses to global change will affect community structure is unknown. We incubated a mixed natural diatom community from coastal New Zealand waters in a short-term (two-week) incubation experiment using a factorial matrix of warming and/or elevated pCO2 and measured effects on community structure. We then isolated the dominant diatoms in clonal cultures and conditioned them for 1 year under the same temperature and pCO2 conditions from which they were isolated, in order to allow for extended selection or acclimation by these abiotic environmental change factors in the absence of interspecific interactions. These conditioned isolates were then recombined into ‘artificial’ communities modelled after the original natural assemblage and allowed to compete under conditions identical to those in the short-term natural community experiment. In general, the resulting structure of both the unconditioned natural community and conditioned ‘artificial’ community experiments was similar, despite differences such as the loss of two species in the latter. pCO2 and temperature had both individual and interactive effects on community structure, but temperature was more influential, as warming significantly reduced species richness. In this case, our short-term manipulative experiment with a mixed natural assemblage spanning weeks served as a reasonable proxy to predict the effects of global change forcing on diatom community structure after the component species were conditioned in isolation over an extended timescale. Future studies will be required to assess whether or not this is also the case for other types of algal communities from other marine regimes.

Continue reading ‘Short- and long-term conditioning of a temperate marine diatom community to acidification and warming’

The other ocean acidification problem: CO2 as a resource among competitors for ecosystem dominance

Predictions concerning the consequences of the oceanic uptake of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) have been primarily occupied with the effects of ocean acidification on calcifying organisms, particularly those critical to the formation of habitats (e.g. coral reefs) or their maintenance (e.g. grazing echinoderms). This focus overlooks direct and indirect effects of CO2 on non-calcareous taxa that play critical roles in ecosystem shifts (e.g. competitors). We present the model that future atmospheric [CO2] may act as a resource for mat-forming algae, a diverse and widespread group known to reduce the resilience of kelp forests and coral reefs. We test this hypothesis by combining laboratory and field CO2 experiments and data from ‘natural’ volcanic CO2 vents. We show that mats have enhanced productivity in experiments and more expansive covers in situ under projected near-future CO2 conditions both in temperate and tropical conditions. The benefits of CO2 are likely to vary among species of producers, potentially leading to shifts in species dominance in a high CO2 world. We explore how ocean acidification combines with other environmental changes across a number of scales, and raise awareness of CO2 as a resource whose change in availability could have wide-ranging community consequences beyond its direct effects.

Continue reading ‘The other ocean acidification problem: CO2 as a resource among competitors for ecosystem dominance’

Long-term effects of warming and ocean acidification are modified by seasonal variation in species responses and environmental conditions

Warming of sea surface temperatures and alteration of ocean chemistry associated with anthropogenic increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide will have profound consequences for a broad range of species, but the potential for seasonal variation to modify species and ecosystem responses to these stressors has received little attention. Here, using the longest experiment to date (542 days), we investigate how the interactive effects of warming and ocean acidification affect the growth, behaviour and associated levels of ecosystem functioning (nutrient release) for a functionally important non-calcifying intertidal polychaete (Alitta virens) under seasonally changing conditions. We find that the effects of warming, ocean acidification and their interactions are not detectable in the short term, but manifest over time through changes in growth, bioturbation and bioirrigation behaviour that, in turn, affect nutrient generation. These changes are intimately linked to species responses to seasonal variations in environmental conditions (temperature and photoperiod) that, depending upon timing, can either exacerbate or buffer the long-term directional effects of climatic forcing. Taken together, our observations caution against over emphasizing the conclusions from short-term experiments and highlight the necessity to consider the temporal expression of complex system dynamics established over appropriate timescales when forecasting the likely ecological consequences of climatic forcing.

Continue reading ‘Long-term effects of warming and ocean acidification are modified by seasonal variation in species responses and environmental conditions’

California Ocean Protection Council announces West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel

Sacramento, Calif. California and Oregon are joining forces to help address ocean acidification and hypoxia, a West Coast-wide threat to our shared marine and coastal ecosystems. The California Natural Resources Agency, on behalf of the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC), today signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Oregon to jointly sponsor a high-level science panel to help address the issue of ocean acidification and hypoxia.  The West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel will provide state-level decision makers with the knowledge needed to evaluate and develop action plans for these complex issues. The science panel will also identify the research and monitoring needed to contribute to a West Coast-wide assessment of ocean acidification and hypoxia, and address information and data gaps critical to resource management decisions.

Continue reading ‘California Ocean Protection Council announces West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel’

Formation and maintenance of high-nitrate, low pH layers in the eastern Indian Ocean and the role of nitrogen fixation (update)

We investigated the biogeochemistry of low dissolved oxygen high-nitrate (LDOHN) layers forming against the backdrop of several interleaving regional water masses in the eastern Indian Ocean, off northwest Australia adjacent to Ningaloo Reef. These water masses, including the forming Leeuwin Current, have been shown directly to impact the ecological function of Ningaloo Reef and other iconic coastal habitats downstream. Our results indicate that LDOHN layers are formed from multiple subduction events of the Eastern Gyral Current beneath the Leeuwin Current (LC); the LC originates from both the Indonesian Throughflow and tropical Indian Ocean. Density differences of up to 0.025 kg m−3 between the Eastern Gyral Current and the Leeuwin Current produce sharp gradients that can trap high concentrations of particles (measured as low transmission) along the density interfaces. The oxidation of the trapped particulate matter results in local depletion of dissolved oxygen and regeneration of dissolved nitrate (nitrification). We document an associated increase in total dissolved carbon dioxide, which lowers the seawater pH by 0.04 units. Based on isotopic measurements (δ15N and δ18O) of dissolved nitrate, we determine that ~ 40–100% of the nitrate found in LDOHN layers is likely to originate from nitrogen fixation, and that, regionally, the importance of N-fixation in contributing to LDOHN layers is likely to be highest at the surface and offshore.

Continue reading ‘Formation and maintenance of high-nitrate, low pH layers in the eastern Indian Ocean and the role of nitrogen fixation (update)’

Sea-floor microbes may be affected by ailing shrimp in acidified oceans

Disrupting just one process in the important relationship between microbes and bigger plants and animals that live in ocean floor sediment may have knock-on effects that could reduce the productivity of coastal ecosystems, according to international research published online yesterday in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Dr Bonnie Laverock, an Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre Research Fellow associated with The University of Western Australia, is the lead author of the paper which outlines the effects of ocean acidification on marine microorganisms.

Dr Laverock and her team from the UK and the US are the first to investigate the impacts of ocean acidification – caused by increasing concentrations of dissolved carbon dioxide – on the interactions between macro and micro-organisms in sediments.

Continue reading ‘Sea-floor microbes may be affected by ailing shrimp in acidified oceans’

Bioturbation determines the response of benthic ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms to ocean acidification

Ocean acidification (OA), caused by the dissolution of increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in seawater, is projected to cause significant changes to marine ecology and biogeochemistry. Potential impacts on the microbially driven cycling of nitrogen are of particular concern. Specifically, under seawater pH levels approximating future OA scenarios, rates of ammonia oxidation (the rate-limiting first step of the nitrification pathway) have been shown to dramatically decrease in seawater, but not in underlying sediments. However, no prior study has considered the interactive effects of microbial ammonia oxidation and macrofaunal bioturbation activity, which can enhance nitrogen transformation rates. Using experimental mesocosms, we investigated the responses to OA of ammonia oxidizing microorganisms inhabiting surface sediments and sediments within burrow walls of the mud shrimp Upogebia deltaura. Seawater was acidified to one of four target pH values (pHT 7.90, 7.70, 7.35 and 6.80) in comparison with a control (pHT 8.10). At pHT 8.10, ammonia oxidation rates in burrow wall sediments were, on average, fivefold greater than in surface sediments. However, at all acidified pH values (pH ≤ 7.90), ammonia oxidation rates in burrow sediments were significantly inhibited (by 79–97%; p < 0.01), whereas rates in surface sediments were unaffected. Both bacterial and archaeal abundances increased significantly as pHT declined; by contrast, relative abundances of bacterial and archaeal ammonia oxidation (amoA) genes did not vary. This research suggests that OA could cause substantial reductions in total benthic ammonia oxidation rates in coastal bioturbated sediments, leading to corresponding changes in coupled nitrogen cycling between the benthic and pelagic realms.

Continue reading ‘Bioturbation determines the response of benthic ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms to ocean acidification’

Vanishing ocean smell could also mean fewer clouds

Next time you’re at the beach take a deep, long sniff: That special coastal scent might not last forever. While you’re at it, put on some extra sunscreen: As that smell dwindles, cloud cover could, too.

The unique oceanside smell that flows over your olfactory organs is loaded with sulfur — dimethylsulfide, to be exact, or DMS. It’s produced when phytoplankton decompose. And it’s a fragrant compound that’s as special as it smells: In the atmosphere it reacts to produce sulfuric acid, which aids in the formation of clouds.

Continue reading ‘Vanishing ocean smell could also mean fewer clouds’


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