Ecological and physiological constraints of deep-sea corals in a changing environment

Deep-water or cold-water corals are abundant and highly diverse, greatly increase habitat heterogeneity and species richness, thereby forming one of the most significant ecosystems in the deep sea. Despite this remote location, they are not removed from the different anthropogenic disturbances that commonly impact their shallow-water counterparts. The global decrease in seawater pH due to increases in atmospheric CO2 are changing the chemical properties of the seawater, decreasing the concentration of carbonate ions that are important elements for different physiological and ecological processes. Predictive models forecast a shoaling of the carbonate saturation in the water column due to OA, and suggest that cold-water corals are at high risk, since large areas of suitable habitat will experience suboptimal conditions by the end of the century. The main objective of this study was to explore the fate of the deep-water coral community in time of environmental change. To better understand the impact of climate change this study focused in two of the most important elements of dee-sea coral habitat, the reef forming coral Lophelia pertusa and the octocoral community, particularly the gorgonian Callogorgia delta. By means of controlled experiments, I examined the effects of longand short-term exposures to seawater simulating future scenarios of ocean acidification on calcification and feeding efficiency. Finally In order to understand how the environment influences the community assembly, and ultimately how species cope with particular ecological filters, I integrated different aspects of biology such functional diversity and ecology into a more evolutionary context in the face of changing environment. My results suggest that I) deep-water corals responds negatively to future OA by lowering the calcification rates, II) not all individuals respond in the same way to OA with high intra-specific variability providing a potential for adaptation in the longterm III) there is a disruption in the balance between accretion and dissolution that in the long term can shift from net accretion to net dissolution, and IV) there is an evolutionary implication for certain morphological features in the coral community that can give an advantage under stresfull conditions. Nevertheless, the suboptimal conditions that deepwater corals will experience by the end of the century could potentially threaten their persistence, with potentially negative consequences for the future stability of this already fragile ecosystem.

Gómez C. E., 2018. Ecological and physiological constraints of deep-sea corals in a changing environment. PhD thesis, Temple University, 132 p. Thesis (restricted access).

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