Effects of the ocean acidification on the functional structure of coral reef nematodes

A mesocosm experiment was designed to study the effects of acidification on the phytal nematofauna of a coral reef. We hypothesized that phytal nematodes are responsive to different seawater acidification levels and that their assemblage structure and functional indicators (combination of maturity index and trophic diversity index) are useful to evaluate the effects of acidification. Artificial substrate units (ASU) were first colonized in a coral reef zone (Recife de Fora Municipal Marine Park, Porto Seguro, Bahia, Brazil) to obtain standardized assemblage samples. ASUs were transferred to laboratory and exposed to control and three levels of seawater acidification (pH reduced by 0.3, 0.6 and 0.9 units below field levels) and collected after 15 and 30 d. Contrary to our expectations that acidification may change the taxonomic structure of nematodes, while the functional structure may deviate from the expected under high levels of acidification, we found that univariate functional indicators of the community (index of trophic diversity and maturity index) did not show significant differences between the control and experimental treatments throughout the exposure period. It is probably because the frequent exposure of shallow-water nematodes to rather large environmental variations leads the faunal response to acidification to be complex and subtle. On the other hand, the density of the life-history strategy groups 3 and 4 and the structure of nematode assemblages were significantly affected by different pH levels throughout the exposure period. Both history strategy groups include all kinds of feeding groups. These results suggest that the impact of pH changes predicted by the years 2100 and 2300 may be strong enough to provide different traits or life-history strategies of nematodes to take advantage under changing conditions.

Esteves A. M., Souza T. P., Sarmento V. C., Maria T. F. & Santos P. J. P., in press. Effects of the ocean acidification on the functional structure of coral reef nematodes. Coral Reefs. Article.

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