Effects of climate change on the physiology of giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, and grazing by purple urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus

As global warming continues over the coming century, marine organisms will experience a warmer, more acidic ocean. Although these stressors may behave antagonistically or synergistically and will impact organisms both directly (i.e., physiologically) and indirectly (i.e., through altered species interactions), few studies have examined the complexities of these effects in combination. To address these uncertainties, we examined the independent and combined effects of elevated temperature and pCO2 on the physiology of the adult sporophyte stage of giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, and the grazing of the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. While elevating pCO2 alone had no effect on M. pyrifera growth or photosynthetic carbon uptake, elevating temperature alone resulted in a significant reduction in both. However, when M. pyrifera was grown under elevated temperature and pCO2 together, growth and photosynthetic carbon uptake significantly increased relative to ambient conditions, suggesting an interaction of these factors on photosynthetic physiology. S. purpuratus held under future conditions generally exhibited reduced growth, and smaller gonads than urchins held under present-day conditions. However, urchins fed kelp grown under future conditions showed higher growth rates, partially ameliorating this effect. Feeding rates were variable over the course of the experiment, with only the first feeding rate experiment showing significantly lower rates for urchins held under future conditions. Together, these data suggest that M. pyrifera may benefit physiologically from a warmer, more acidic (i.e., higher pCO2) ocean while S. purpuratus will likely be impacted negatively. Given that kelp-urchin interactions can be important to kelp forest structure, changes to either of these populations may have serious consequences for many coastal environments.

Brown B., Edwards M. S. & Kim K. Y., 2014. Effects of climate change on the physiology of giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, and grazing by purple urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Algae 29(3):203-215. Article.

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