Effects of elevated CO2 and temperature on an intertidal meiobenthic community

In the near future, the marine environment is likely to be subjected to simultaneous increases in temperature and decreased pH. The potential effects of these changes on intertidal, meiofaunal assemblages were investigated using a mesocosm experiment. Artificial Substrate Units containing meiofauna from the extreme low intertidal zone were exposed for 60 days to eight experimental treatments (four replicates for each treatment) comprising four pH levels: 8.0 (ambient control), 7.7 & 7.3 (predicted changes associated with ocean acidification), and 6.7 (CO2 point-source leakage from geological storage), crossed with two temperatures: 12 °C (ambient control) and 16 °C (predicted). Community structure, measured using major meiofauna taxa was significantly affected by pH and temperature. Copepods and copepodites showed the greatest decline in abundance in response to low pH and elevated temperature. Nematodes increased in abundance in response to low pH and temperature rise, possibly caused by decreased predation and competition for food owing to the declining macrofauna density. Nematode species composition changed significantly between the different treatments, and was affected by both seawater acidification and warming. Estimated nematode species diversity, species evenness, and the maturity index, were substantially lower at 16 °C, whereas trophic diversity was slightly higher at 16 °C except at pH 6.7. This study has demonstrated that the combination of elevated levels of CO2 and ocean warming may have substantial effects on structural and functional characteristics of meiofaunal and nematode communities, and that single stressor experiments are unlikely to encompass the complexity of abiotic and biotic interactions. At the same time, ecological interactions may lead to complex community responses to pH and temperature changes in the interstitial environment.

Meadows A. S., Ingels J., Widdicombe S., Hale R. & Rundle S. D., 2015. Effects of elevated CO2 and temperature on an intertidal meiobenthic community. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 469:44–56. Article (subscription required).

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