The combined effects of ocean acidification with fleshy macroalgae and filamentous turfs on tropical crustose coralline algae

Global climate change induces multiple stressors on tropical coral reefs that threaten their persistence. Ocean acidification decreases calcification in most dominant reef builders, such as crustose coralline algae (CCA). Climate change also has the potential to increase the biomass of fleshy macroalgae and filamentous turf in coral reef ecosystems. While fleshy macroalgae and turf may shade, abrade, and have otherwise negative consequences on CCA metabolism, their high rates of photosynthesis may mitigate OA locally through carbon uptake, resulting in a local increase in pH. This thesis explored the effects of OA, combined with the presence of either fleshy macroalgae or algal turfs, on Lithophyllum kotschyanum, an abundant species of CCA in Moorea, French Polynesia. In a mesocosm study, three canopy types, clear mimics, dark mimics, and S. pacificum, were crossed with two CO2 levels, ambient (400 μatm) and elevated (1000 μatm). The clear, dark, and S. pacificum canopies resulted in stepwise decreases in calcification of L. kotschyanum. This response suggests that shading and likely flow moderation decrease CCA calcification. To separate the effects of fleshy macroalgal metabolism from the effects of its physical structure, a subsequent mesocosm and field experiment were performed. In the mesocosm study, a header tank that provided S. pacificum-treated seawater to treatment tanks was used to determine the metabolic effect of S. pacificum on L. kotschyanum. In the field, S. pacificum canopies were attached to 20  30 cm grids, upstream from CCA samples. Data from the mesocosm study support a positive effect of carbon uptake by S. pacificum, but the metabolic effect did not translate into the field. Because S. pacificum was placed in closer proximity to CCA samples in the field than in lab, the difference in L. kotschyanum calcification between the mesocosm and field experiment may be due to physical effects of the canopy in the field, such as shading. The combined results of these two studies suggest that upstream macroalgal communities have the potential to mitigate the negative effects of OA to downstream calcifiers, but will not benefit understory calcifiers. Finally, a mesocosm experiment was conducted to address the combined effects of OA and the presence of epiphytic turf algae on host CCA. In a factorial experiment, L. kotschyanum samples with and without epiphytic turf algae were placed in flow through tanks where pCO2 was ambient (400 μatm) or elevated (1000 μatm). Results indicated a significant effect of elevated pCO2 on CCA calcification and a negative effect of turf presence, despite a higher pH in the presence of turf during light incubations. This indicates that any benefit of higher daytime pH within the DBL of L. kotschyanum was outweighed by the negative effects, such as shading, nighttime anoxia and low pH. Overall, these studies indicate that fleshy macroalgae and filamentous turfs can raise seawater pH locally, but any benefit of this effect is outweighed by the negative effects of fleshy macroalgae and turf presence. The only instance during which CCA may incur a net benefit from fleshy macroalgae occurs when calcifiers are situated downstream of a dense macroalgal community, entirely unaffected by its physical structure. Ultimately, fleshy macroalgae and turf affect CCA negatively, regardless of OA treatment.

Perng L. Y., 2019. The combined effects of ocean acidification with fleshy macroalgae and filamentous turfs on tropical crustose coralline algae. MSc thesis, California State University Northridge. 119 p. Thesis.

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