Biogeochemical implications of decomposing jellyfish blooms in a changing climate

Jellyfish often exhibit ‘boom and bust’ population dynamics whereby they proliferate rapidly and then die en masse and decompose. The few studies that have investigated post-bloom processes have not studied how changing ocean conditions will alter rates of decomposition. Climate change will result in warmer and more acidic waters, and studies therefore need to consider these factors in concert to determine their combined effect on decomposition processes. To quantify the effect, we measured oxygen consumption and nutrient regeneration rates during decomposition of Catostylus mosaicus in mesocosms at current average summer pH and temperature (pH 8.0 and 27 °C) as well as conditions projected for year 2100 (pH 7.8 and 30 °C) and compared these fluxes to control mesocosms without jellyfish over 12 days. We hypothesised that rates of jellyfish decomposition, as measured by oxygen demand and nutrient regeneration, would be accelerated in the end-of-century treatments, compared to present day treatments. Overall decomposition rates were only slightly elevated under end–of-century conditions, and the difference was only significant for ammonium fluxes from 19 h until 43 h after the experiment commenced. The difference between treatments was much smaller than would be expected due to the temperature increase, based on theoretical modelling of jellyfish decomposition which predicts a Q10 of 4.28, or a 1.5 fold increase in decomposition rates. This highlights the importance of investigating net effects on decomposition rates, as simultaneous shifts in temperature and pH may not follow patterns predicted due to one stressor alone. Ultimately, these results suggest that rates of oxygen consumption and nutrient regeneration resulting from collapsed jellyfish blooms may not change drastically over the next 100 years.

Chelsky A., Pitt K. A. & Welsh D. T., in press. Biogeochemical implications of decomposing jellyfish blooms in a changing climate. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. Article (subscription required).

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