Sponge erosion under acidification and warming scenarios: differential impacts on living and dead coral

Ocean acidification will disproportionately impact the growth of calcifying organisms in coral reef ecosystems. Simultaneously, sponge bioerosion rates have been shown to increase as seawater pH decreases. We conducted a 20-week experiment that included a 4-week acclimation period with a high number of replicate tanks and a fully orthogonal design with two levels of temperature (ambient and +1 °C), three levels of pH (8.1, 7.8 and 7.6) and two levels of boring sponge (Cliona varians, present and absent) to account for differences in sponge attachment and carbonate change for both living and dead coral substrate (Porites furcata). Net coral calcification, net dissolution/bioerosion, coral and sponge survival, sponge attachment, and sponge symbiont health were evaluated. Additionally, we used the empirical data from the experiment to develop a stochastic simulation of carbonate change for small coral clusters (i.e., simulated reefs). Our findings suggest differential impacts of temperature, pH and sponge presence for living and dead corals. Net coral calcification (mg CaCO3 cm−2 d−1) was significantly reduced in treatments with increased temperature (+1 °C) and when sponges were present; acidification had no significant effect on coral calcification. Net dissolution of dead coral was primarily driven by pH, regardless of sponge presence or seawater temperature. A reevaluation of the current paradigm of coral carbonate change under future acidification and warming scenarios should include ecologically relevant time scales, species interactions, and community organization to more accurately predict ecosystem-level response to future conditions.

Stubler A. D., Furman B. T. & Peterson B. J., in press. Sponge erosion under acidification and warming scenarios: differential impacts on living and dead coral. Global Change Biology. Article (subscription required).


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