Conspecific aggregations mitigate the effects of ocean acidification on calcification of the coral Pocillopora verrucosa

In densely populated communities, such as coral reefs, organisms can modify the physical and chemical environment for neighbouring individuals. We tested the hypothesis that colony density (12 colonies each placed∼0.5 cm apart versus∼8 cm apart) can modulate the physiological response (measured through rates of calcification, photosynthesis, and respiration in the light and dark) of the coral Pocillopora verrucosa to pCO2 treatments (∼ 400 µatm and∼1200 µatm) by altering the seawater flow regimes experienced by colonies placed in aggregations within a flume at a single flow speed. While light calcification decreased 20% under elevated versus ambient pCO2 for colonies in low-density aggregations, light calcification of high-density aggregations increased 23% at elevated versus ambient pCO2. As a result, densely aggregated corals maintained calcification rates over 24 h that were comparable to those maintained under ambient pCO2, despite a 45% decrease in dark calcification at elevated versus ambient pCO2. Additionally, densely aggregated corals experienced reduced flow speeds and higher seawater retention times between colonies due to the formation of eddies. These results support recent indications that neighbouring organisms, such as the conspecific coral colonies in the present example, can create small-scale refugia from the negative effects of ocean acidification.

Evensen N. R. & Edmunds P. J., in press. Conspecific aggregations mitigate the effects of ocean acidification on calcification of the coral Pocillopora verrucosa. Journal of Experimental Biology. Article (subscription required).

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