Seawater temperature and buffering capacity modulate coral calcifying pH

Scleractinian corals promote the precipitation of their carbonate skeleton by elevating the pH and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) concentration of their calcifying fluid above that of seawater. The fact corals actively regulate their calcifying fluid chemistry implies the potential for acclimation to ocean acidification. However, the extent to which corals can adjust their regulation mechanism in the face of decreasing ocean pH has not been rigorously tested. Here I present a numerical model simulating pH and DIC up-regulation by corals, and use it to determine the relative importance of physiological regulation versus seawater conditions in controlling coral calcifying fluid chemistry. I show that external seawater temperature and buffering capacity exert the first-order control on the extent of pH elevation in the calcifying fluid and explain most of the observed inter- and intra-species variability. Conversely, physiological regulation, represented by the interplay between enzymatic proton pumping, carbon influx and the exchange of calcifying fluid with external seawater, contributes to some variability but remain relatively constant as seawater conditions change. The model quantitatively reproduces variations of calcifying fluid pH in natural Porites colonies, and predicts an average 0.16 unit decrease in Porites calcifying fluid pH, i.e., ~43% increase in H+ concentration, by the end of this century as a combined result of projected ocean warming and acidification, highlighting the susceptibility of coral calcification to future changes in ocean conditions. In addition, my findings support the development of coral-based seawater pH proxies, but suggest the influences of physicochemical and biological factors other than seawater pH must be considered.

Guo W., 2019. Seawater temperature and buffering capacity modulate coral calcifying pH. Scientific Reports 9: 1189. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-36817-y. Article.

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