Forecasting ocean acidification impacts on kelp forest ecosystems

Ocean acidification is one the biggest threats to marine ecosystems worldwide, but its ecosystem wide responses are still poorly understood. This study integrates field and experimental data into a mass balance food web model of a temperate coastal ecosystem to determine the impacts of specific OA forcing mechanisms as well as how they interact with one another. Specifically, we forced a food web model of a kelp forest ecosystem near its southern distribution limit in the California large marine ecosystem to a 0.5 pH drop over the course of 50 years. This study utilizes a modeling approach to determine the impacts of specific OA forcing mechanisms as well as how they interact. Isolating OA impacts on growth (Production), mortality (Other Mortality), and predation interactions (Vulnerability) or combining all three mechanisms together leads to a variety of ecosystem responses, with some taxa increasing in abundance and other decreasing. Results suggest that carbonate mineralizing groups such as coralline algae, abalone, snails, and lobsters display the largest decreases in biomass while macroalgae, urchins, and some larger fish species display the largest increases. Low trophic level groups such as giant kelp and brown algae increase in biomass by 16% and 71%, respectively. Due to the diverse way in which OA stress manifests at both individual and population levels, ecosystem-level effects can vary and display nonlinear patterns. Combined OA forcing leads to initial increases in ecosystem and commercial biomasses followed by a decrease in commercial biomass below initial values over time, while ecosystem biomass remains high. Both biodiversity and average trophic level decrease over time. These projections indicate that the kelp forest community would maintain high productivity with a 0.5 drop in pH, but with a substantially different community structure characterized by lower biodiversity and relatively greater dominance by lower trophic level organisms.

Schlenger A. J., Beas-Luna R. & Ambrose R. F., in press. Forecasting ocean acidification impacts on kelp forest ecosystems. bioRxiv. Article.

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