Altered sediment biota and lagoon habitat carbonate dynamics due to sea cucumber bioturbation in a high-pCO2 environment

The effects of global change on biological systems and functioning are already measureable, but how ecological interactions are being altered is poorly understood. Ecosystem resilience is strengthened by ecological functionality, which depends on trophic interactions between key species and resilience generated through biogenic buffering. Climate-driven alterations to coral reef metabolism, structural complexity and biodiversity are well documented, but the feedbacks between ocean change and trophic interactions of non-coral invertebrates are understudied. Sea cucumbers, some of the largest benthic inhabitants of tropical lagoon systems, can influence diel changes in reef carbonate dynamics. Whether they have the potential to exacerbate or buffer ocean acidification over diel cycles depends on their relative production of total alkalinity (AT) through the dissolution of ingested calcium carbonate (CaCO3) sediments and release of dissolved inorganic carbon (CT) through respiration and trophic interactions. In this study, the potential for the sea cucumber, Stichopus herrmanni, a bêche-de-mer (fished) species listed as vulnerable to extinction, to buffer the impacts of ocean acidification on reef carbonate chemistry was investigated in lagoon sediment mesocosms across diel cycles. Stichopus herrmanni directly reduced the abundance of meiofauna and benthic primary producers through its deposit-feeding activity under present-day and near-future pCO2. These changes in benthic community structure, as well as AT (sediment dissolution) and CT (respiration) production by S. herrmanni, played a significant role in modifying seawater carbonate dynamics night and day. This previously unappreciated role of tropical sea cucumbers, in support of ecosystem resilience in the face of global change, is an important consideration with respect to the bêche-de-mer trade to ensure sea cucumber populations are sustained in a future ocean.

Wolfe K., Vidal-Ramirez F., Dove S., Deaker D. & Byrne M., in press. Altered sediment biota and lagoon habitat carbonate dynamics due to sea cucumber bioturbation in a high-pCO2 environment. Global Change Biology. Article (subscription required).

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