Effects of “reduced” and “business-as-usual” CO2 emission scenarios on the algal territories of the damselfish Pomacentrus wardi (Pomacentridae)

Turf algae are a very important component of coral reefs, featuring high growth and turnover rates, whilst covering large areas of substrate. As food for many organisms, turf algae have an important role in the ecosystem. Farming damselfish can modify the species composition and productivity of such algal assemblages, while defending them against intruders. Like all organisms however, turf algae and damselfishes have the potential to be affected by future changes in seawater (SW) temperature and pCO2. In this study, algal assemblages, in the presence and absence of farming Pomacentrus wardi were exposed to two combinations of SW temperature and pCO2 levels projected for the austral spring of 2100 (the B1 “reduced” and the A1FI “business-as-usual” CO2 emission scenarios) at Heron Island (GBR, Australia). These assemblages were dominated by the presence of red algae and non-epiphytic cyanobacteria, i.e. cyanobacteria that grow attached to the substrate rather than on filamentous algae. The endpoint algal composition was mostly controlled by the presence/absence of farming damselfish, despite a large variability found between the algal assemblages of individual fish. Different scenarios appeared to be responsible for a mild, species specific change in community composition, observable in some brown and green algae, but only in the absence of farming fish. Farming fish appeared unaffected by the conditions to which they were exposed. Algal biomass reductions were found under “reduced” CO2 emission, but not “business-as-usual” scenarios. This suggests that action taken to limit CO2 emissions may, if the majority of algae behave similarly across all seasons, reduce the potential for phase shifts that lead to algal dominated communities. At the same time the availability of food resources to damselfish and other herbivores would be smaller under “reduced” emission scenarios.

Bender D., Champ C. M., Kline D., Diaz-Pulido G. & Dove S., 2015. Effects of “reduced” and “business-as-usual” CO2 emission scenarios on the algal territories of the damselfish Pomacentrus wardi (Pomacentridae). PLoS ONE 10(6): e0131442. Article.

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