Elevated colonization of microborers at a volcanically acidified coral reef

Experiments have demonstrated that ocean acidification (OA) conditions projected to occur by the end of the century will slow the calcification of numerous coral species and accelerate the biological erosion of reef habitats (bioerosion). Microborers, which bore holes less than 100 μm diameter, are one of the most pervasive agents of bioerosion and are present throughout all calcium carbonate substrates within the reef environment. The response of diverse reef functional groups to OA is known from real-world ecosystems, but to date our understanding of the relationship between ocean pH and carbonate dissolution by microborers is limited to controlled laboratory experiments. Here we examine the settlement of microborers to pure mineral calcium carbonate substrates (calcite) along a natural pH gradient at a volcanically acidified reef at Maug, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Colonization of pioneer microborers was higher in the lower pH waters near the vent field. Depth of microborer penetration was highly variable both among and within sites (4.2–195.5 μm) over the short duration of the study (3 mo.) and no clear relationship to increasing CO2 was observed. Calculated rates of biogenic dissolution, however, were highest at the two sites closer to the vent and were not significantly different from each other. These data represent the first evidence of OA-enhancement of microboring flora colonization in newly available substrates and provide further evidence that microborers, especially bioeroding chlorophytes, respond positively to low pH. The accelerated breakdown and dissolution of reef framework structures with OA will likely lead to declines in structural complexity and integrity, as well as possible loss of essential habitat.

Enochs I. C., Manzello D. P., Tribollet A., Valentino L., Kolodziej G., Donham E. M., Fitchett M. D., Carlton R. & Price N. N., 2016. Elevated colonization of microborers at a volcanically acidified coral reef. PLoS ONE 11(7):e0159818. Article.

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