Negative effects of a zoanthid competitor limit coral calcification more than ocean acidification

Ocean acidification (OA) threatens the persistence of reef-building corals and the habitat they provide. While species-specific effects of OA on marine organisms could have cascading effects on ecological interactions like competition, few studies have identified how benthic reef competitors respond to OA. We explored how two common Caribbean competitors, branching Porites and a colonial zoanthid (Zoanthus), respond to the factorial combination of OA and competition. In the laboratory, we exposed corals, zoanthids and interacting corals and zoanthids to ambient (8.01 ± 0.03) and OA (7.68 ± 0.07) conditions for 60 days. The OA treatment had no measured effect on zoanthids or coral calcification but decreased Porites maximum PSII efficiency. Conversely, the competitive interaction significantly decreased Porites calcification but had minimal-to-no countereffects on the zoanthid. Although this interaction was not exacerbated by the 60-day OA exposure, environmental changes that enhance zoanthid performance could add to the dominance of zoanthids over corals. The lack of effects of OA on coral calcification indicates that near-term competitive interactions may have more immediate consequences for some corals than future global change scenarios. Disparate consequences of competition have implications for community structure and should be accounted for when evaluating local coral reef trajectories.

Doucette V. E., Rodriguez Bravo L. M., Altieri A. H. & Johnson M. D., 2022. Negative effects of a zoanthid competitor limit coral calcification more than ocean acidification. Royal Society Open Science: 9220760220760. doi: 10.1098/rsos.220760. Article.


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