Carbon dioxide addition to coral reef waters suppresses net community calcification

Coral reefs feed millions of people worldwide, provide coastal protection and generate billions of dollars annually in tourism revenue. The underlying architecture of a reef is a biogenic carbonate structure that accretes over many years of active biomineralization by calcifying organisms, including corals and algae. Ocean acidification poses a chronic threat to coral reefs by reducing the saturation state of the aragonite mineral of which coral skeletons are primarily composed, and lowering the concentration of carbonate ions required to maintain the carbonate reef. Reduced calcification, coupled with increased bioerosion and dissolution, may drive reefs into a state of net loss this century. Our ability to predict changes in ecosystem function and associated services ultimately hinges on our understanding of community- and ecosystem-scale responses. Past research has primarily focused on the responses of individual species rather than evaluating more complex, community-level responses. Here we use an in situ carbon dioxide enrichment experiment to quantify the net calcification response of a coral reef flat to acidification. We present an estimate of community-scale calcification sensitivity to ocean acidification that is, to our knowledge, the first to be based on a controlled experiment in the natural environment. This estimate provides evidence that near-future reductions in the aragonite saturation state will compromise the ecosystem function of coral reefs.

Albright R., Takeshita Y., Koweek D. A., Ninokawa A., Wolfe K., Rivlin T., Nebuchina Y., Young J. & Caldeira K., in press. Carbon dioxide addition to coral reef waters suppresses net community calcification. Nature. Article (subscription required).

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