The effect of ocean acidification on tropical coral calcification: insights from calcification fluid DIC chemistry

Highlights

• Calcification fluid pH and [co-precipitating DIC] are positively correlated in all corals.
• [Precipitating DIC] and coral calcification rate are positively correlated in all but one outlier coral.
• Corals cultured at high seawater pCO2 usually have low fluid pH and [precipitating DIC]. Reduced DIC substrate at the calcification site is the likely cause of decreased coral calcification rates under ocean acidification scenarios.
• The outlier coral maintained a high calcification fluid pH and [co-precipitating DIC] at high seawater pCO2 but exhibited a low calcification rate suggesting that corals have a limited energy budget for calcification which is apportioned between proton extrusion from the calcification site and other processes e.g. synthesis of the skeletal organic matrix.

Abstract

Ocean acidification typically reduces calcification in tropical marine corals but the mechanism for this process is not understood. We use skeletal boron geochemistry (B/Ca and δ11B) to reconstruct the calcification fluid DIC of corals cultured over both high and low seawater pCO2 (180, 400 and 750 μatm). We observe strong positive correlations between calcification fluid pH and concentrations of the DIC species potentially implicated in aragonite precipitation (be they CO32−, HCO3 or HCO3 + CO32−). Similarly, with the exception of one outlier, the fluid concentrations of precipitating DIC species are strongly positively correlated with coral calcification rate. Corals cultured at high seawater pCO2 usually have low calcification fluid pH and low concentrations of precipitating DIC, suggesting that a reduction in DIC substrate at the calcification site is responsible for decreased calcification. The outlier coral maintained high pHCF and DICCF at high seawater pCO2 but exhibited a reduced calcification rate indicating that the coral has a limited energy budget to support proton extrusion from the calcification fluid and meet other calcification demands. We find no evidence that increasing seawater pCO2 enhances diffusion of CO2 into the calcification site. Instead the overlying [CO2] available to diffuse into the calcification site appears broadly comparable between seawater pCO2 treatments, implying that metabolic activity (respiration and photosynthesis) generates a similar [CO2] in the vicinity of the calcification site regardless of seawater pCO2.

Allison N., Cole C., Hintz C., Hintz K., Rae J. & Finch A., in press. The effect of ocean acidification on tropical coral calcification: insights from calcification fluid DIC chemistry. Chemical Geology. Article (subscription required).

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