Partner preference in the intertidal: possible benefits of ocean acidification to sea anemone-algal symbiosis

Ocean acidification (OA) threatens many marine species and is projected to become more severe over the next 50 years. Areas of the Salish Sea and Puget Sound that experience seasonal upwelling of low pH water are particularly susceptible to even lower pH conditions. While ocean acidification literature often describes negative impacts to calcifying organisms, including economically important shellfish, and zooplankton, not all marine species appear to be
threatened by OA. Photosynthesizing organisms, in particular, may benefit from increased levels of CO2. The aggregating anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima), a common intertidal organism throughout the northeast Pacific, hosts two photosynthetic symbionts: Symbiodinium muscatinei (a dinoflagellate) and Elliptochloris marina (a chlorophyte). The holobiont, therefore, consists of both a cnidarian host and a photosymbiont that could be affected differently by the changing levels of environmental CO2. To determine the effects of OA on this important marine organism, A. elegantissima in each of four symbiotic conditions (hosting S. muscatinei, hosting E. marina, hosting mixed symbiont assemblages, or symbiont free) were subjected to one of three pCO2 levels (800 ppm, 1200 ppm, or 1800 ppm) of OA for 10 weeks. At regular intervals, gross photosynthesis and density of the symbionts, respiration rate of the hosts, levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the host, and percent of organic carbon received by the host from the symbiont (CZAR) were measured. Over the 10-week period of the experiment, the densities of symbionts responded differently to an increase in pCO2, increasing in anemones hosting S. muscatinei but decreasing for those hosting E. marina. Similarly, anemones of mixed symbiont complement that started with approximately 50% of each symbiont type shifted toward a higher percentage of S. muscatinei with higher pCO2. Both gross photosynthesis and dark respiration were significantly affected by pCO2 and symbiont state, though we cannot say that the symbiontsv responded differently to increased OA. Symbiont state was a significant predictor for ROS concentration, with greatest levels seen in anemones hosting E. marina and for CZAR score, with greatest levels in anemones hosting S. muscatinei, our linear models did not reveal pCO2 as a significant factor in these responses. Together, these results suggest that S. muscatinei may benefit from elevated pCO2 levels and that A. elegantissima hosting that symbiont may have a competitive advantage under some future scenarios of ocean acidification.

Coleman N., 2020. Partner preference in the intertidal: possible benefits of ocean acidification to sea anemone-algal symbiosis. MSc thesis, Western Washington University, 74 p. Thesis.

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