Micro-CT analysis of the Caribbean octocoral Eunicea flexuosa subjected to elevated pCO2

Rising anthropogenic carbon dioxide has resulted in a drop in ocean pH, a phenomenon known as ocean acidification (OA). These acidified waters have many ramifications for diverse marine biota, especially those species which precipitate calcium carbonate skeletons. The permanence of coral reef ecosystems is therefore closely related to OA stress as habitat-forming corals will exhibit reduced calcification and growth. Relatively little is known concerning the fate of other constituent taxa which may either suffer concomitant declines or be competitively favoured in acidified waters. Here, we experimentally (49 d) test the effects of next century predictions for OA (pH = 7.75, pCO2 = 1081 µatm) vs. near-present-day conditions (pH = 8.01, pCO2 = 498 µatm) on the common Caribbean octocoral Eunicea flexuosa. We measure linear extension of this octocoral and use a novel technique, high-resolution micro-computed tomography, to measure potential differences in the morphology of calcified internal skeletal structures (sclerites) in a 2 mm apical section of each branch. Despite the use of highly accurate procedures, we found no significant differences between treatments in either the growth of E. flexuosa branches or the structure of their sclerites. Our results suggest a degree of resilience to OA stress and provide evidence that this octocoral species may persist on Caribbean coral reefs, despite global change.

EnochsI. C., Manzello D. P., Wirshing H. H., Carlton R. & Serafy J., in press. Micro-CT analysis of the Caribbean octocoral Eunicea flexuosa subjected to elevated pCO2. ICES Journal of Marine Science. Article (subscription required).

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