An investigation into the physiological impacts of ocean acidification on recruits of the temperate coral, Oculina arbuscula

Ocean acidification is well-researched with respect to adult scleractinian corals, however information on whether adults and recruits of the same species respond similarly to this environmental stress is lacking. I investigated the responses to increased pCO2 of recruits of the temperate coral, Oculina arbuscula, whose adults are known to withstand high levels of pCO2 with no depression in calcification (up to 1000 ppm CO2). I addressed the hypothesis that O. arbuscula recruit health is not affected by increased pCO2 by exposing small colonies (5-12mm diameter) to 475, 711, and 1270 ppm CO2 for 75 days. Calcification rates were monitored throughout the experiment, while mortality, respiration rates, photosynthetic rates, zooxanthella densities, and soluble protein were determined at the end. As predicted, higher pCO2 did not impact survival, zooxanthella densities, or soluble protein. In contrast, both calcification rates and photosynthesis:respiration (P:R) ratios tended to be lower at higher pCO2. These results suggest that there is a size-dependent response to pCO2 within O. arbuscula, with recruits being unable to keep up with the increased energetic cost of calcification that occurs at higher pCO2. With the mean pCO2 increasing approximately 2.4% each year in the South Atlantic Bight (SAB), within the next 30 years O. arbuscula recruits are predicted to experience seasonal depressions in calcification rate driven by the overlying natural fluctuations in oceanic pCO2, and within 50 years recruits are anticipated to exhibit year-round depressions in calcification rate.

Varnerin B., 2018. An investigation into the physiological impacts of ocean acidification on recruits of the temperate coral, Oculina arbuscula. MSc thesis, Georgia Southern University, 62 p. Thesis.

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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