Boosted fish abundance associated with Posidonia oceanica meadows in temperate shallow CO2 vents

Highlights

  • Ocean acidification (OA) may induce shifts in the structure and function of coastal marine ecosystems
  • CO2 vents were used to assess the effects of OA on fish assemblages associated with Posidonia oceanica
  • Posidonia structure and associated fish assemblages were compared at vents and off-vents using underwater visual census
  • Posidonia density increases and fish show boosted abundance but not reduced diversity at vents
  • Mediterranean Posidonia fish assemblages may cope with OA under near-future acidification level

Abstract

Ocean acidification (OA) may induce major shifts in the structure and function of coastal marine ecosystems. Studies in volcanic CO2 vents, where seawater is naturally acidified, have reported an overall simplification of fish assemblages structure, while some primary producers are likely to increase their biomass under elevated concentration of CO2. Here we used temperate shallow CO2 vents located around the coast of Ischia island (Italy) to assess the effects of OA on necto-benthic fish assemblages associated with the foundation seagrass species Posidonia oceanica in the Mediterranean Sea. We compared P. oceanica meadow structure, its epiphytic community and the associated fish assemblage structure and diversity at vents with low pH sites and reference sites with ambient pH using underwater visual census strip transects, in two seasons (fall 2018 and summer 2019). Data were analysed using both univariate and multivariate statistical techniques. Results showed greater P. oceanica habitat complexity (i.e. shoot density) and lower abundance of epiphytic calcareous species (e.g. coralline algae) at the vents than reference sites. Total abundance of adult and juvenile fish was higher at vents than reference sites, while no differences were found for species richness and composition. Overall, the herbivore Sarpa salpa stands out among the species contributing the most to dissimilarity between vents and reference sites, showing higher abundances under OA conditions. This pattern could be explained by the combined effect of a positive response to the higher structural meadows complexity and the greater seagrasses palatability / nutritional value occurring at the vents, which may help herbivores to withstand the higher energetic cost to live under high pCO2 / low pH conditions. Our results indicate that necto-benthic fish assemblages associated with the Mediterranean P. oceanica ecosystem may cope with OA under the CO2 emission scenarios forecasted for the end of this century.

Mirasole A., Badalamenti F., Di Franco A., Gambi M. C. & Teixidó N., in press. Boosted fish abundance associated with Posidonia oceanica meadows in temperate shallow CO2 vents. Science of The Total Environment. Article (subscription required).

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