Ocean acidification reduces demersal zooplankton that reside in tropical coral reefs

The in situ effects of ocean acidification on zooplankton communities remain largely unexplored. Using natural volcanic CO2 seep sites around tropical coral communities, we show a threefold reduction in the biomass of demersal zooplankton in high-CO2 sites compared with sites with ambient CO2. Differences were consistent across two reefs and three expeditions. Abundances were reduced in most taxonomic groups. There were no regime shifts in zooplankton community composition and no differences in fatty acid composition between CO2 levels, suggesting that ocean acidification affects the food quantity but not the quality for nocturnal plankton feeders. Emergence trap data show that the observed reduction in demersal plankton may be partly attributable to altered habitat. Ocean acidification changes coral community composition from branching to massive bouldering coral species, and our data suggest that bouldering corals represent inferior daytime shelter for demersal zooplankton. Since zooplankton represent a major source of nutrients for corals, fish and other planktivores, this ecological feedback may represent an additional mechanism of how coral reefs will be affected by ocean acidification.

Smith J. N., De’ath G., Richter C., Cornils A., Hall-Spencer J. M. & Fabricius K. E., in press. Ocean acidification reduces demersal zooplankton that reside in tropical coral reefs. Nature Climate Change. Article (subscription required).

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