Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are rapidly affecting ocean chemistry, leading to increased acidification (i.e., decreased pH) and reductions in calcium carbonate saturation state. This phenomenon, known as ocean acidification, poses a serious imminent threat to marine species, especially those that use calcium carbonate. In this dissertation, I use a variety of methods (field-based experiments, surveys, meta-analysis) to understand how marine communities respond to both natural and experimental CO2 enrichment and how responses could be shaped by species interactions or food availability. I found that ocean acidification influenced community assembly, recruitment, and succession to create homogenized, low diversity communities. I found broadly that soft-bodied, weedy taxa (e.g., algae and ascidians) had an advantage in acidified conditions and outcompeted heavily calcified taxa (e.g., mussels, serpulids) that were more vulnerable to the effects of acidification, although calcified bryozoans and barnacles exhibited mixed responses. Next, I examined an important hypothesis of context dependency in ocean acidification research: that negative responses by calcifiers to high CO2 could be reduced by higher energy input. I found little support for this hypothesis for species growth and abundance, and in fact found that, for some species, additional food supply exacerbated or brought out the negative effects of CO2. Further, I found that acidification stress can tip the balance of community composition towards invasion, under resource conditions that enabled the native community to resist invasions. Overall, it is clear that acidification is a strong driving force in marine communities but understanding the underlying energetic and competitive context is essential to predicting climate change responses.
Brown N. E. M., 2018. Ecological responses to ocean acidification by developing marine fouling communities. PhD thesis, University of British Columbia, 174 p. Thesis.