The role of irradiance and C-use strategies in tropical macroalgae photosynthetic response to ocean acidification

Fleshy macroalgae may increase photosynthesis with greater CO2 availability under ocean acidification (OA) and outcompete calcifying macroalgae important for tropical reef accretion. Macroalgae use energy-dependent carbon concentrating mechanisms (CCMs) to take up HCO3, the dominant inorganic carbon for marine photosynthesis, but carbon-use strategies may depend on the pCO2, pH and irradiance. We examined photosynthesis in eight tropical macroalgae across a range of irradiances (0–1200 μmol photon m−2 s−1), pH levels (7.5–8.5) and CO2 concentrations (3–43 μmol kg−1). Species-specific CCM strategies were assessed using inhibitors and δ13C isotope signatures. Our results indicate that the log of irradiance is a predictor of the photosynthetic response to elevated pCO2 (R2 > 0.95). All species utilized HCO3, exhibited diverse C-use pathways and demonstrated facultative HCO3 use. All fleshy species had positive photosynthetic responses to OA, in contrast to a split amongst calcifiers. We suggest that shifts in photosynthetically-driven tropical macroalgal changes due to OA will most likely occur in moderate to high-irradiance environments when CCMs are ineffective at meeting the C-demands of photosynthesis. Further, facultative use of HCO3 allows greater access to CO2 for photosynthesis under OA conditions, particularly amongst fleshy macroalgae, which could contribute to enhance fleshy species dominance over calcifiers.

Zweng R. C., Koch M. S. & Bowes G., 2018. The role of irradiance and C-use strategies in tropical macroalgae photosynthetic response to ocean acidification. Scientific Reports 8: 9479. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-27333-0. Article.


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