Coral calcification mechanisms facilitate adaptive responses to ocean acidification

Ocean acidification (OA) is a pressing threat to reef-building corals, but it remains poorly understood how coral calcification is inhibited by OA and whether corals could acclimatize and/or adapt to OA. Using a novel geochemical approach, we reconstructed the carbonate chemistry of the calcifying fluid in two coral species using both a pH and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) proxy (δ11B and B/Ca, respectively). To address the potential for adaptive responses, both species were collected from two sites spanning a natural gradient in seawater pH and temperature, and then subjected to three pHT levels (8.04, 7.88, 7.71) crossed by two temperatures (control, +1.5°C) for 14 weeks. Corals from the site with naturally lower seawater pH calcified faster and maintained growth better under simulated OA than corals from the higher-pH site. This ability was consistently linked to higher pH yet lower DIC values in the calcifying fluid, suggesting that these differences are the result of long-term acclimatization and/or local adaptation to naturally lower seawater pH. Nevertheless, all corals elevated both pH and DIC significantly over seawater values, even under OA. This implies that high pH upregulation combined with moderate levels of DIC upregulation promote resistance and adaptive responses of coral calcification to OA.

Schoepf V., Jury C. P., Toonen R. J. & McCulloch M. T., in press. Coral calcification mechanisms facilitate adaptive responses to ocean acidification. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Article (subscription required).

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OA-ICC HIGHLIGHTS

Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book