Reduced seawater pH alters marine biofilms with impacts for marine polychaete larval settlement

Highlights

• Reduced seawater pH strongly influences biofilm community composition, at both eukaryotic and prokaryotic level

• For older biofilms, biofilm age plays no role in community composition

• Incubation under different pH treatments results in variations in apparent colour and structural complexity of marine biofilms

• Incubation of marine biofilms under different pH treatments alters the settlement response in marine invertebrates

• The changes in marine biofilm community composition induced by seawater pH are most likely responsible for the changes observed in invertebrate settlement selectivity

Abstract

Ocean acidification (OA) can negatively affect early-life stages of marine organisms, with the key processes of larval settlement and metamorphosis potentially vulnerable to reduced seawater pH. Settlement success depends strongly on suitable substrates and environmental cues, with marine biofilms as key settlement inducers for a range of marine invertebrate larvae. This study experimentally investigated (1) how seawater pH determines growth and community composition of marine biofilms, and (2) whether marine biofilms developed under different pH conditions can alter settlement success in the New Zealand serpulid polychaete Galeolaria hystrix. Biofilms were developed under six pH(T) treatments (spanning from 7.0 to 8.1 [ambient]) in a flow-through system for up to 14 months. Biofilms of different ages (7, 10 and 14 months) were used to assay successful settlement of competent G. hystrix larvae reared under ambient conditions. Biofilm microbiomes were characterized through amplicon sequencing of the small subunit ribosomal rRNA gene (16S and 18S). Biofilm community composition was stable over time within each pH treatment and biofilm age did not affect larval settlement selectivity. Seawater pH treatment strongly influenced biofilm community composition, as well as subsequent settlement success when biofilms were presented to competent Galeolaria larvae. Exposure to biofilms incubated under OA-treatments caused a decrease in larval settlement of up to 40% compared to the ambient treatments. We observed a decrease in settlement on biofilms relative to ambient pH for slides incubated at pH 7.9 and 7.7. This trend was reversed at pH 7.4, resulting in high settlement, comparable to ambient biofilms. Settlement decreased on biofilms from pH 7.2, and no settlement was observed on biofilms from pH 7.0. For the first time, we show that long-term incubation of marine biofilms under a wide range of reduced seawater pH treatments can alter marine biofilms in such a way that settlement success in marine invertebrates can be compromised.

Espinel-Velasco N., Tobias-Hünefeldt S. P., Karelitz S., Hoffmann L. J., Morales S. E. & Lamare M. D., in press. Reduced seawater pH alters marine biofilms with impacts for marine polychaete larval settlement. Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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