The bloom-forming macroalgae, Ulva, outcompetes the seagrass, Zostera marina, under high CO2 conditions

This study reports on experiments performed with a Northwest Atlantic species of the macroalgae, Ulva, and the seagrass, Zostera marina, grown under ambient and elevated levels of pCO2, and subjected to competition with each other. When grown individually, elevated pCO2 significantly increased growth rates and productivity of Ulva and Zostera, respectively, beyond control treatments (by threefold and 27%, respectively). For both primary producers, significant declines in tissue δ13C signatures suggested that increased growth and productivity were associated with a shift from use of HCO3 toward CO2 use. When grown under higher pCO2, Zostera experienced significant increases in leaf and rhizome carbon content as well as significant increases in leaf carbon-to-nitrogen ratios, while sediments within which high CO2 Zostera were grown had a significantly higher organic carbon content. When grown in the presence of Ulva; however, above- and below-ground productivity and tissue nitrogen content of Zostera were significantly lower, revealing an antagonistic interaction between elevated CO2 and the presence of Ulva. The presence of Zostera had no significant effect on the growth of Ulva. Collectively, this study demonstrates that while Ulva and Zostera can each individually benefit from elevated pCO2 levels, the ability of Ulva to grow more rapidly and inhibit seagrass productivity under elevated pCO2, coupled with accumulation of organic C in sediments, may offset the potential benefits for Zostera within high CO2 environments.

Young C. S., Peterson B. J. & Gobler C. J., in press. The bloom-forming macroalgae, Ulva, outcompetes the seagrass, Zostera marina, under high CO2 conditions. Estuaries and Coasts. Article.

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