How ocean acidification can benefit calcifiers

Reduction in seawater pH due to rising levels of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) in the world’s oceans is a major force set to shape the future of marine ecosystems and the ecological services they provide 1 and 2. In particular, ocean acidification is predicted to have a detrimental effect on the physiology of calcifying organisms [3]. Yet, the indirect effects of ocean acidification on calcifying organisms, which may counter or exacerbate direct effects, is uncertain. Using volcanic CO2 vents, we tested the indirect effects of ocean acidification on a calcifying herbivore (gastropod) within the natural complexity of an ecological system. Contrary to predictions, the abundance of this calcifier was greater at vent sites (with near-future CO2 levels). Furthermore, translocation experiments demonstrated that ocean acidification did not drive increases in gastropod abundance directly, but indirectly as a function of increased habitat and food (algal biomass). We conclude that the effect of ocean acidification on algae (primary producers) can have a strong, indirect positive influence on the abundance of some calcifying herbivores, which can overwhelm any direct negative effects. This finding points to the need to understand ecological processes that buffer the negative effects of environmental change.

Connell S. D., Doubleday Z. A., Hamlyn S. B., Foster N. R., Harley C. D. G., Helmuth B., Kelaher B. P., Nagelkerken I., Sarà G. & Russell B. D., 2017. How ocean acidification can benefit calcifiers. Current Biology 27(3):R95–R96. Article (subscription required).

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