Coral calcification under environmental change: a direct comparison of the alkalinity anomaly and buoyant weight techniques

Two primary methods—the buoyant weight (BW) and alkalinity anomaly (AA) techniques—are currently used to quantify net calcification rates (G) in scleractinian corals. However, it remains unclear whether they are directly comparable since the few method comparisons conducted to date have produced inconsistent results. Further, such a comparison has not been made for tropical corals. We directly compared GBW and GAA in four tropical and one temperate coral species cultured under various pCO2, temperature, and nutrient conditions. A range of protocols for conducting alkalinity depletion incubations was assessed. For the tropical corals, open-top incubations with manual stirring produced GAA that were highly correlated with and not significantly different from GBW. Similarly, GAA of the temperate coral was not significantly different from GBW when incubations provided water motion using a pump, but were significantly lower than GBW by 16% when water motion was primarily created by aeration. This shows that the two techniques can produce comparable calcification rates in corals but only when alkalinity depletion incubations are conducted under specific conditions. General recommendations for incubation protocols are made, especially regarding adequate water motion and incubation times. Further, the re-analysis of published data highlights the importance of using appropriate regression statistics when both variables are random and measured with error. Overall, we recommend the AA technique for investigations of community and short-term day versus night calcification, and the BW technique to measure organism calcification rates integrated over longer timescales due to practical limitations of both methods. Our findings will facilitate the direct comparison of studies measuring coral calcification using either method and thus have important implications for the fields of ocean acidification research and coral biology in general.

Schoepf V., Hu X., Holcomb M., Cai W.-J., Li Q., Wang Y., Xu H., Warner M. E., Melman T. F., Hoadley K. D., Pettay D. T., Matsui Y., Baumann J. H. & Grottoli A. G., 2017. Coral Reefs 36:13. Article (subscription required).

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