Calcification does not necessarily protect articulated coralline algae from urchin grazing

Calcification is widely thought to be an adaptation that reduces the impact of herbivory. Recent work has shown that ocean acidification may negatively impact calcification of marine organisms, including coralline red algae, which could theoretically increase the susceptibility of corallines to benthic grazers. By manipulating calcium carbonate content of three articulated coralline algal species, we demonstrated that calcification has a variable and species-specific effect on urchin grazing. For two species, Corallina vancouveriensis and Corallina officinalis var. chilensis, reductions in calcium carbonate content did not cause a significant increase in urchin grazing, raising questions about the benefit of calcification in these species. For Calliarthron tuberculosum, reduced calcium carbonate content caused an increase in urchin grazing rates but only after calcium carbonate had been reduced by more than 15%, suggesting that only dramatic shifts in calcification would make C. tuberculosum more susceptible to urchin grazing. We hypothesize that the herbivory-reducing benefits of calcification likely depend upon coralline thallus morphology. Negative impacts of ocean acidification on calcification in coralline algae may not necessarily increase herbivory rates.

Martone P. T., Schipper S. R., Froese T., Bretner J., DeMong A. & Eastham T. M., 2021. Calcification does not necessarily protect articulated coralline algae from urchin grazing. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 537: 151513. doi: 10.1016/j.jembe.2021.151513. Article (subscription required).

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