Does ocean acidification benefit seagrasses in a mesohaline environment? a mesocosm experiment in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Ocean acidification is thought to benefit seagrasses because of increased carbon dioxide (CO2) availability for photosynthesis. However, in order to truly assess ecological responses, effects of ocean acidification need to be investigated in a variety of coastal environments. We tested the hypothesis that ocean acidification would benefit seagrasses in the northern Gulf of Mexico, where the seagrasses Halodule wrightii and Ruppia maritima coexist in a fluctuating environment. To evaluate if benefits of ocean acidification could alter seagrass bed composition, cores of H. wrightii and R. maritima were placed alone or in combination into aquaria and maintained in an outdoor mesocosm. Half of the aquaria were exposed to either ambient (mean pH of 8.1 ± 0.04 SD on total scale) or high CO2 (mean pH 7.7 ± 0.05 SD on total scale) conditions. After 54 days of experimental exposure, the δ13C values were significantly lower in seagrass tissue in the high CO2 condition. This integration of a different carbon source (either: preferential use of CO2, gas from cylinder, or both) indicates that plants were not solely relying on stored energy reserves for growth. Yet, after 41 to 54 days, seagrass morphology, biomass, photo-physiology, metabolism, and carbon and nitrogen content in the high CO2 condition did not differ from those at ambient. There was also no indication of differences in traits between the homospecific or heterospecific beds. Findings support two plausible conclusions: (1) these seagrasses rely heavily on bicarbonate use and growth will not be stimulated by near future acidification conditions or (2) the mesohaline environment limited the beneficial impacts of increased CO2 availability.

Guerrero-Meseguer L., Cox T. E., Sanz-Lázaro C., Schmid S., Enzor L. A., Major K., Gazeau F. & Cebrian J., in press. Does ocean acidification benefit seagrasses in a mesohaline environment? A mesocosm experiment in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Estuaries and Coasts. Article (subscription required).

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