Experimental impacts of climate warming and ocean carbonation on eelgrass Zostera marina

CO2 is a critical and potentially limiting substrate for photosynthesis of both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. In addition to being a climate-warming greenhouse gas, increasing concentrations of CO2 will dissolve in the oceans, eliciting both negative and positive responses among organisms in a process commonly known as ocean acidification. The dissolution of CO2 into ocean surface waters, however, also increases its availability for photosynthesis, to which the highly successful, and ecologically important, seagrasses respond positively. Thus, the process might be more accurately characterized as ocean carbonation. This experiment demonstrated that CO2 stimulation of primary production enhances the summertime survival, growth, and proliferation of perennial eelgrass Zostera marina from the Chesapeake region, which is regularly impacted by summer heat stress. The experiment also quantified the logarithmic response to CO2 in terms of shoot proliferation, size, growth and sugar accumulation that was fundamentally consistent with model predictions based on metabolic carbon balance derived from short-term laboratory experiments performed with other eelgrass populations from cool ocean climates and other seagrass species from tropical and temperate environments. Rather than acting in a neutral fashion or as an independent stressor, increased CO2 availability can serve as a quantitative antagonist to counter the negative impact of climate warming on seagrass growth and survival. These results reinforce the emerging paradigm that seagrasses are likely to benefit significantly from a high-CO2 world.

Zimmerman R. C., Hill V. J., Jinuntuya M., Celebi B., Ruble D., Smith M., Cedeno T. & Swingle W. M., 2017. Experimental impacts of climate warming and ocean carbonation on eelgrass Zostera marina. Marine Ecology Progress Series 566:1-15. Article.

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