Macroalgal spore dysfunction: ocean acidification delays and weakens adhesion

Early life stages of marine organisms are predicted to be vulnerable to ocean acidification. For macroalgae, reproduction and population persistence rely on spores to settle, adhere and continue the algal life cycle, yet the effect of ocean acidification on this critical life stage has been largely overlooked. We explicitly tested the biomechanical impact of reduced pH on early spore adhesion. We developed a shear flume to examine the effect of reduced pH on spore attachment time and strength in two intertidal rhodophyte macroalgae, one calcified (Corallina vancouveriensis) and one non-calcified (Polyostea robusta). Reduced pH delayed spore attachment of both species by 40-52% and weakened attachment strength in C. vancouveriensis, causing spores to dislodge at lower flow-induced shear forces, but had no effect on the attachment strength of P. robusta. Results are consistent with our prediction that reduced pH disrupts proper curing and gel formation of spore adhesives (anionic polysaccharides and glycoproteins) via protonation and cation displacement, although experimental verification is needed. Our results demonstrate that ocean acidification negatively, and differentially, impacts spore adhesion in two macroalgae. If results hold in field conditions, reduced ocean pH has the potential to impact macroalgal communities via spore dysfunction, regardless of the physiological tolerance of mature thalli.

Guenther R., Miklasz K., Carrington E. & Martone P. T., in press. Macroalgal spore dysfunction: ocean acidification delays and weakens adhesion. Journal of Phycology. Article (subscription required).


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