Entering the Anthropocene: How ocean acidification and warmer temperatures affect the symbiotic sea anemone Exaiptasia pallida

Here I report the effects of long-term elevated CO2 combined with two subsequent elevated temperature intervals on the model symbiotic anemone Exaiptasia pallida. A central goal of this thesis was to investigate how altered CO2 and temperature affect the symbiotic relationship while this anemone hosted three different strains of endosymbiotic dinoflagellates (Symbiodinium minutum, Symbiodinium A4a, and Symbiodinium A4b). Exposure to elevated CO2 (930μatm) alone for 42 days led to no significant changes in either the anemone or the algae physiological response, with the exception of some separation between the photosynthesis to respiration ratio of S. A4a and S. A4b control and treatment animals. Exposure to both elevated CO2 (930μatm) and a moderate  elevation in temperature (29°C) for 49 days led to a significant increase in the net maximal photosynthesis (normalized to algal cell density) between the treatment and controls of all three  holobionts. Exposure to both elevated CO2 (930μatm) and an even higher temperature (33°C) for up to 20 days led to a significant decrease in photobiology and algal cell density, along with visible bleaching in the S. minutum holobiont. All three holobionts displayed a significant decrease in the photosynthesis to respiration ratio, thereby providing evidence for temperature having a greater impact on the phototrophic response of these anemones. However, anemones harboring the two A4 Symbiodinium did not show as large of a negative response in photosystem II  photochemistry when compared to anemones with S. minutum. The high temperature treatment also resulted in juvenile mortality in all three holobionts, with the greatest mortality seen in the S. minutum holobiont. The differential response to both elevated CO2 and elevated temperature between the three holobionts highlights the thermal sensitivity of the S. minutum symbiosis, and the thermal tolerance of the S. A4 holobionts. Thermal tolerance may enable these anemones to survive and thrive in future climate change conditions, while the effects of higher CO2 appear to be more neutral.

Hagemayer J. C. G., 2016. Entering the Anthropocene: How ocean acidification and warmer temperatures affect the symbiotic sea anemone Exaiptasia pallida. MSc thesis, University of Delaware, 67 p. Thesis (restricted access).

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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