Posts Tagged 'calcification'

Ocean acidification increases inorganic carbon over organic carbon in shrimp’s exoskeleton


  • PIC: POC ratio in shrimps’ exoskeleton may increase under future OA.
  • Hyper-calcification and increased respiration are possible in shrimps under OA releasing more CO2 into the water.
  • Increased PIC: POC ratio may impact the ecosystem functions as well as the carbon cycle.


Ocean acidification (OA) may either increase or have a neutral effect on the calcification in shrimp’s exoskeleton. However, investigations on changes in the carbon composition of shrimp’s exoskeletons under OA are lacking. We exposed juvenile Pacific white shrimps to target pHs of 8.0, 7.9, and 7.6 for 100 days to evaluate changes in carapace thickness, total carbon (TC), particulate organic carbon (POC), particulate inorganic carbon (PIC), calcium, and magnesium concentrations in their exoskeletons. The PIC: POC ratio of shrimp in pH 7.6 treatment was significantly higher by 175 % as compared to pH 8.0 treatment. Thickness and Ca% in pH 7.6 treatment were significantly higher as compared to pH 8.0 treatment (90 % and 65 %, respectively). This is the first direct evidence of an increased PIC: POC ratio in shrimp exoskeletons under OA. In the future, such changes in carbon composition may affect the shrimp population, ecosystem functions, and regional carbon cycle.

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Long-term physiological responses to combined ocean acidification and warming show energetic trade-offs in an asterinid starfish

While organismal responses to climate change and ocean acidification are increasingly documented, longer-term (> a few weeks) experiments with marine organisms are still sparse. However, such experiments are crucial for assessing potential acclimatization mechanisms, as well as predicting species-specific responses to environmental change. Here, we assess the combined effects of elevated pCO2 and temperature on organismal metabolism, mortality, righting activity, and calcification of the coral reef-associated starfish Aquilonastra yairi. Specimens were incubated at two temperature levels (27 °C and 32 °C) crossed with three pCO2 regimes (455 µatm, 1052 µatm, and 2066 µatm) for 90 days. At the end of the experiment, mortality was not altered by temperature and pCO2 treatments. Elevated temperature alone increased metabolic rate, accelerated righting activity, and caused a decline in calcification rate, while high pCO2 increased metabolic rate and reduced calcification rate, but did not affect the righting activity. We document that temperature is the main stressor regulating starfish physiology. However, the combination of high temperature and high pCO2 showed nonlinear and potentially synergistic effects on organismal physiology (e.g., metabolic rate), where the elevated temperature allowed the starfish to better cope with the adverse effect of high pCO2 concentration (low pH) on calcification and reduced skeletal dissolution (antagonistic interactive effects) interpreted as a result of energetic trade-offs.

Continue reading ‘Long-term physiological responses to combined ocean acidification and warming show energetic trade-offs in an asterinid starfish’

Ocean acidification enhances primary productivity and nocturnal carbonate dissolution in intertidal rock pools

Human CO2 emissions are modifying ocean carbonate chemistry, causing ocean acidification, and likely already impacting marine ecosystems. In particular, there is concern that coastal, benthic calcifying organisms will be negatively affected by ocean acidification, a hypothesis largely supported by laboratory studies. The inter-relationships between carbonate chemistry and marine calcifying communities in situ are complex and natural mesocosms such as tidal pools can provide useful community-level insights. In this study, we manipulated the carbonate chemistry of intertidal pools to investigate the influence of future ocean acidification on net community production (NCP) and calcification (NCC) at emersion. Adding CO2 at the start of the tidal emersion to simulate future acidification (+1500 μatm pCO2, target pH: 7.5) modified net production and calcification rates in the pools. By day, pools were fertilized by the increased CO2 (+20 % increase in NCP, from 10 to 12 mmol O2 m−2 hr−1), while there was no measurable impact on NCC. During the night, pools experienced net community dissolution (NCC < 0), even in present-day conditions, when waters were supersaturated with regards to aragonite. Adding CO2 in the pools increased nocturnal dissolution rates by 40 % (from −0.7 to −1.0 mmol CaCO3 m−2 hr−1) with no consistent impact on night community respiration. Our results suggest that ocean acidification is likely to alter temperate intertidal community metabolism on sub-daily timescales, enhancing both diurnal community production and nocturnal calcium carbonate dissolution.

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Sr/Ca in foraminiferal calcite as a proxy for calcifying fluid composition

Foraminifera are unicellular organisms that inhabit the oceans. They play an important role in the global carbon cycle and record valuable paleoclimate information through the uptake of trace elements such as strontium (Sr) into their calcitic (CaCO3) shells. Understanding how foraminifera control their internal fluid composition to make CaCO3 is important for predicting their response to ocean acidification and for reliably interpreting the chemical and isotopic compositions of their shells. Here, we model foraminiferal calcification and strontium partitioning in the benthic foraminifera Cibicides wuellerstorfi and Cibicidoides mundulus based on insights from inorganic calcite experiments. The model reconciles inter-ocean and taxonomic differences in benthic foraminifer Sr/Ca partitioning relationships and enables us to reconstruct the composition of the calcifying fluid. We find that Sr partitioning and mineral growth rates of foraminiferal calcite are not significantly affected by changes in external seawater pH (within 7.8–8.1) and [DIC] (within 2100–2300 µmol/kg) due to a regulated calcite saturation state at the site of shell formation. Such homeostasis of the calcifying fluid could explain why foraminifera have been resilient to changes in ocean carbonate chemistry for more than 500 million years. Nevertheless, our model indicates that past foraminiferal DSr values were lower than its modern value due to overall lower ocean pH and higher seawater temperature during the early and middle Cenozoic.

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Acid times in physiology: a systematic review of the effects of ocean acidification on calcifying invertebrates

The reduction in seawater pH from rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the oceans has been recognized as an important force shaping the future of marine ecosystems. Therefore, numerous studies have reported the effects of ocean acidification (OA) in different compartments of important animal groups, based on field and/or laboratory observations. Calcifying invertebrates have received considerable attention in recent years. In the present systematic review, we have summarized the physiological responses to OA in coral, echinoderm, mollusk, and crustacean species exposed to predicted ocean acidification conditions in the near future. The Scopus, Web of Science, and PubMed databases were used for the literature search, and 75 articles were obtained based on the inclusion criteria. Six main physiological responses have been reported after exposure to low pH. Growth (21.6%), metabolism (20.8%), and acid-base balance (17.6%) were the most frequent among the phyla, while calcification and growth were the physiological responses most affected by OA (>40%). Studies show that the reduction of pH in the aquatic environment, in general, supports the maintenance of metabolic parameters in invertebrates, with redistribution of energy to biological functions, generating limitations to calcification, which can have severe consequences for the health and survival of these organisms. It should be noted that the OA results are variable, with inter and/or intraspecific differences. In summary, this systematic review offers important scientific evidence for establishing paradigms in the physiology of climate change in addition to gathering valuable information on the subject and future research perspectives.

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Seasonal upwelling conditions modulate the calcification response of a tropical scleractinian coral

Natural processes such as upwelling of deeper-water masses change the physical-chemical conditions of the water column creating localized ocean acidification events that can have an impact on the natural communities. This study was performed in a coral reef system of an archetypical bay within the Tayrona National Natural Park (PNNT) (Colombia), and aimed to quantify net calcification rates of a foundational coral species within a temporal context (6 months) taking into account the dynamics of seasonal upwelling that influence the study area. Net calcification rates of coral fragments were obtained in situ by the alkalinity anomaly technique in short-term incubations (~2.5 h). We found a significant effect of the upwelling on net calcification rates (Gnet) (p < 0.05) with an 42% increase in CaCO3 accretion compared to non-upwelling season. We found an increase in total alkalinity (AT) and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) with decreased aragonite saturation (Ωara) for the upwelling months, indicating an influence of the Subtropical Under Water mass (SAW) in the PNNT coral community. Significant negative correlations between net calcification with temperature and Ωara, which indicates a positive response of M. auretenra with the upwelling conditions, thus, acting as “enhancer” of resilience for coral calcification.

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Morpho-anatomical, and chemical characterization of some calcareous Mediterranean red algae species

Climatic changes are anticipated to have a detrimental effect on calcifying marine species. Calcareous red algae may be especially vulnerable to seasonal variations since they are common and essential biologically, but there is little research on the morpho-anatomical, and chemical characterization of such species. This study conducted the seasonal investigation of the three dominant Mediterranean calcified red algae. Morphological and 18S rRNA analysis confirmed the identification of collected species as Corallina officinalis, Jania rubens, and Amphiroa rigida. In general, C. officinalis was represented in the four seasons and flourishing maximum in autumn (70% of total species individuals). While J. rubens species was represented in winter, autumn, and spring and completely absent in summer. A. rigida was abundant only in the summer season by 40%. A full morphological and anatomical description of these species were examined, and their chemical compositions (carbohydrate, protein, lipid, pigments, and elements content) were assessed in different seasons, where carbohydrates were the dominant accumulates followed by proteins and lipids. Pearson correlation analysis confirmed a positive correlation between salinity level and nitrogenous nutrients of the seawater with the pigment contents (phycobiliproteins, carotenoids, and chlorophyll a) of the studied seaweeds. The results proved that calcified red algae were able to deposit a mixture of calcium carbonates such as calcite, vaterite, calcium oxalate, calcite-III I calcium carbonate, and aragonite in variable forms depending on the species.

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From marine snails to marine spatial planning : the science of human impacts and relationships with marine ecosystems

Extractive human systems are driving unprecedented biodiversity loss and exacerbating social inequity. The magnitude of the intertwined climate, biodiversity, and social inequity crises has prompted the development of interdisciplinary research approaches to address these complex problems. One such approach, social-ecological systems (SES), aims to understand the relationships between coupled human and ecological systems. This thesis applies an SES lens to understand the science of human impacts on and relationships with marine ecosystems and inform characterizations of system vulnerability. First, I examined the sensitivity of marine ectothermic animals to climate change by conducting a meta-analysis of the effects of ocean acidification and warming. My synthesis of nearly five hundred factorial studies demonstrates the negative effects of these two drivers, identifies specific taxonomic groups (molluscs), life- history traits (adults, sessile), and latitudes (tropical and temperate) that are more sensitive, and refutes two common assumptions about the drivers’ interactive effects. Next, I tested whether populations of a marine snail vary in their vulnerability to ocean warming based on thermal sensitivity and local rates of ocean warming. Using coupled lab and field experiments with snails from two regions in the middle of their range that differ in thermal characteristics, I found that snails from the warmer Salish Sea, an urban sea, showed greater vulnerability to ocean warming than those from the cooler central coast of British Columbia, Canada. Finally, to inform how humans can mitigate our impacts while sustaining complex relationships with the ocean, I partnered with the Sḵwx̲wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) and regional stewardship organizations on a marine spatial planning project in the Salish Sea. I employed a mixed- methods community-based participatory mapping approach to characterize place-based values and outline opportunities to decolonize research and mapping processes. The results contribute important social data about place-based values, reveal value interactions, reflect knowledge system plurality, and identify avenues to advance reconciliation. Overall, this thesis highlights the vulnerability of marine life, particularly life within urban seas, to climate change and provides a roadmap for researchers and decision-makers to meaningfully steward the health and well-being of coastal social-ecological systems.

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Sterols, free fatty acids, and total fatty acid content in the massive Porites spp. corals cultured under different pCO2 and temperature treatments

Lipids may serve as energy reserves to support coral calcification, allow acclimation to higher temperatures, and are implicated in the control of CaCO3 precipitation. Here, we report the lipid composition of the soft tissues (including host and symbionts) of 7 massive Porites spp. coral colonies (4 × P. lutea and 3 × P. murrayensis), which were cultured under different pCO2 concentrations (180, 260, 400 and 750 µatm) and at two temperatures (25 ℃ and 28 ℃), below the thermal stress threshold. We report the fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), free fatty acid (FFA) to total fatty acid content, sterol and wax ester profiles, and identify two ketones (n-alkanone) and three long chain aldehyde (n-alkanal) derivatives. Increasing seawater temperature significantly increases the contributions of FFAs to the total lipids, of C18:2 and C20:0 to the total FFA pool, of C14:0 to total FAME, and of campesterol to total sterol. The temperature increase also reduces the contributions of unusual fatty acid derivatives to total lipids, of C14:0, C15:0, C16:0 and C17:0 saturated free fatty acids to total FFAs, and of C16:0 FA to total FAME. Fatty acids are implicated in the control of membrane structure fluidity and the observed changes may promote acclimation and thermostability as temperature varies. Seawater pCO2 has no significant effect on the composition of tissue lipids with the exception that the contribution of C14:0 FA to total lipid content is significantly lower at 180 µatm compared to 260 and 750 µatm. Decreased contribution of total sterols and unusual fatty acid derivatives and increased contribution of total FFAs to total lipids are observed in the fastest calcifying coral (a P. lutea specimen) compared to the other corals, under all pCO2 and temperature conditions. Although a rapid calcifier this genotype has been shown previously to exhibit pronounced abnormal changes in skeletal morphology in response to decreased seawater pCO2. Variations in tissue lipid composition between coral genotypes may influence their resilience to future climate change.

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Oyster biomineralisation in acidifying oceans: from genes to shells

Biomineralisation is the process of biologically controlled shell fabrication in marine calcifiers including edible oysters where shell matrix proteins and organic molecules secreted by mantle tissue controls calcium carbonate nucleation, crystallisation, growth, and mechanical properties. It is also one of the key processes that is notably affected in marine calcifiers under human induced environmental stressor, ocean acidification (OA). Understanding molecular changes in the biomineralisation process under OA, therefore, is key to developing conservation strategies for protecting ecologically and economically important oyster species. In this PhD thesis, I have presented hierarchical analyses of biomineralisation mechanisms of Crassostrea hongkongensis (Hong Kong oysters) under OA. The hierarchical analyses include study of changes in DNA methylation and gene expression of mantle tissue of juvenile Hong Kong oysters under OA. On top of studying molecular changes, this study also has incorporated shell mechanical properties in terms of micro-structure, shell crystal orientation and micro-hardness. In addition to juveniles, larvae which are known to be sensitive to OA than juveniles and adults, were also studied for understanding their shell fabrication capacity under OA. This study is also the first to attempt characterisation of shell proteome changes in an oyster species under OA. The results indicate moderate resilience of Hong Kong oyster biomineralisation to OA. Specifically, calcium binding or signalling related genes were subtly differentially expressed in mantle under OA, with no correlation between gene expression and DNA methylation changes. Hong Kong oysters were able to make unimpaired shells in terms of micro-structure and nanostructure (crystal orientation) in both larval and juvenile stages. We conclude that OA would be still a dissolution problem for resilient species such as Hong Kong oysters despite the organism’s ability to make error free shells under OA. We also define the concept directional dissolution – where shell dissolution is directional from hinge to shell edge; and from outer periostracum to inner layers. Ecologists can adapt the directional dissolution concept for accurate use of shell dissolution as a parameter for OA biomonitoring. This thesis will be of interest not only to marine molecular biologists and ecologists but also to material scientists who are interested in biomimetic material designing.

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Deep resilience: an evolutionary perspective on calcification in an age of ocean acidification

The success of today’s calcifying organisms in tomorrow’s oceans depends, in part, on the resilience of their skeletons to ocean acidification. To the extent this statement is true there is reason to have hope. Many marine calcifiers demonstrate resilience when exposed to environments that mimic near-term ocean acidification. The fossil record similarly suggests that resilience in skeletons has increased dramatically over geologic time. This “deep resilience” is seen in the long-term stability of skeletal chemistry, as well as a decreasing correlation between skeletal mineralogy and extinction risk over time. Such resilience over geologic timescales is often attributed to genetic canalization—the hardening of genetic pathways due to the evolution of increasingly complex regulatory systems. But paradoxically, our current knowledge on biomineralization genetics suggests an opposing trend, where genes are co-opted and shuffled at an evolutionarily rapid pace. In this paper we consider two possible mechanisms driving deep resilience in skeletons that fall outside of genetic canalization: microbial co-regulation and macroevolutionary trends in skeleton structure. The mechanisms driving deep resilience should be considered when creating risk assessments for marine organisms facing ocean acidification and provide a wealth of research avenues to explore.

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Interaction of CO2 and light availability on photophysiology of tropical coccolithophorids (Emiliania huxleyi, Gephyrocapsa oceanica, and Ochosphaera sp.)

The study to examine the calcification rate, adaptation, and the biotic response of three tropical coccolithophorids (Emiliania huxleyi, Gephyrocapsa oceanica, and Ochosphaera sp) to changes in CO2 concentration. Three selected calcifying coccolitophorids were grown at batch culture with CO2 system at two levels of CO2 (385 and 1000 ppm) and two light dark periods. The parameters measured and calculation including growth rate, particulate organic carbon content, particulate inorganic carbon content, chlorophyll a, cell size, photosynthetic, organic, inorganic carbon production, photosynthesis, and calcification rate.  The results showed that there was a different response to carbonate chemistry changes and dark and light periods in any of the analyzed parameters.  The growth rate of three selected calcifying microalgae tested was decreasing significantly at high concentrations of CO2 (1000 ppm) treatment on 14:10 hour light: dark periods. However, there was no significant difference between the two CO2 concentrations where they were illuminated by 24 hours light in growth rate.  The increasing CO2 concentration and light-dark periods were species-specific responses to photosynthesis and calcification rate for three selected calcifying microalgae.

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Sensitivity of the grooved carpet shell clam, Ruditapes decussatus (Linnaeus, 1758), to ocean acidification

This research investigated the possible impacts of ocean acidification on the grooved carpet shell clam Ruditapes decussatus as a model for commercially crucial marine bivalve species. Clams were collected from Lake Timsah on the Suez Canal coast, Ismailia, Egypt. They were then incubated in CO2-enriched seawater manipulated at four different CO2 concentrations: 420 ppm (ambient control) and 550, 750, and 1050 ppm. Calcification analysis was carried out using XRD and scanning electron microscope (SEM), highlighting a trend towards noticeable physical sensitivity to acidification. The antioxidant enzymatic activities [catalase (CAT)] were significantly different among different pCO2 (~ 20–23 µmol min−1 mg prot−1). Lipid peroxidation [malondialdehyde (MDA)] also showed a significant difference among treatments (0.21–0.23 nmol TBARS mg prot−1). Shell microstructure analysis showed periostracum distortion in the clam shell as pCO2 concentration increased at 1050 ppm. These results indicate that ocean acidification may exert an additional stress on bivalves through weakening their calcified shell making them more vulnerable to predators and affect their health and survival reducing production and economic value.

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Testing hypotheses on the calcification in scleractinian corals using a spatio-temporal model that shows a high degree of robustness


  • Several hypotheses on coral calcification are tested using a computational model.
  • The model is able to reproduce the experimental data of three separate studies.
  • The model finds that paracellular ion transport into the ECM plays a minor role.
  • Implementing OA in the model increased the calcification rate and ATP consumption.
  • In the model, LEC is the result of increased metabolism and Ca2+-ATPase activity.


Calcification in photosynthetic scleractinian corals is a complicated process that involves many different biological, chemical, and physical sub-processes that happen within and around the coral tissue. Identifying and quantifying the role of separate processes in vivo or in vitro is difficult or not possible. A computational model can facilitate this research by simulating the sub-processes independently. This study presents a spatio-temporal model of the calcification physiology, which is based on processes that are considered essential for calcification: respiration, photosynthesis, Ca2+-ATPase, carbonic anhydrase. The model is used to test different hypotheses considering ion transport across the calicoblastic cells and Light Enhanced Calcification (LEC). It is also used to quantify the effect of ocean acidification (OA) on the Extracellular Calcifying Medium (ECM) and ATP-consumption of Ca2+-ATPase. It was able to reproduce the experimental data of three separate studies and finds that paracellular transport plays a minor role compared to transcellular transport. In the model, LEC results from increased Ca2+-ATPase activity in combination with increased metabolism. Implementing OA increases the concentration of CO2 throughout the entire tissue, thereby increasing the availability of CO3− in the ECM. As a result, the model finds that calcification becomes more energy-demanding and the calcification rate increases.

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Population-specific vulnerability to ocean change in a multistressor environment

Variation in environmental conditions across a species’ range can alter their responses to environmental change through local adaptation and acclimation. Evolutionary responses, however, may be challenged in ecosystems with tightly coupled environmental conditions, where changes in the covariance of environmental factors may make it more difficult for species to adapt to global change. Here, we conduct a 3-month-long mesocosm experiment and find evidence for local adaptation/acclimation in populations of red sea urchins, Mesocentrotus franciscanus, to multiple environmental drivers. Moreover, populations differ in their response to projected concurrent changes in pH, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. Our results highlight the potential for local adaptation/acclimation to multivariate environmental regimes but suggest that thresholds in responses to a single environmental variable, such as temperature, may be more important than changes to environmental covariance. Therefore, identifying physiological thresholds in key environmental drivers may be particularly useful for preserving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.

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Evaluation of the current understanding of the impact of climate change on coral physiology after three decades of experimental research

After three decades of coral research on the impacts of climate change, there is a wide consensus on the adverse effects of heat-stress, but the impacts of ocean acidification (OA) are not well established. Using a review of published studies and an experimental analysis, we confirm the large species-specific component of the OA response, which predicts moderate impacts on coral physiology and pigmentation by 2100 (scenario-B1 or SSP2-4.5), in contrast with the severe disturbances induced by only +2 °C of thermal anomaly. Accordingly, global warming represents a greater threat for coral calcification than OA. The incomplete understanding of the moderate OA response relies on insufficient attention to key regulatory processes of these symbioses, particularly the metabolic dependence of coral calcification on algal photosynthesis and host respiration. Our capacity to predict the future of coral reefs depends on a correct identification of the main targets and/or processes impacted by climate change stressors.

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Seasonal net calcification by secondary calcifiers in coral reefs of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean

This study assesses whether secondary calcification is driven by a contrasting seasonal pattern (rainy vs dry) that occurs in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP). Secondary calcifiers net calcification rates and coverage were measured in two reefs: the semi-enclosed Bahía Tiburón reef (BT [21°52′30 “N, 105°54/54 “W]) and the open Las Monas fringing reef (LM [21°51ʹ00ʹʹN, 105°52ʹ45ʹʹW]). Measurements were made from 2013 to 2016 using Calcification Accretion Units (CAUs). Seawater temperature, illuminance, pCO2, pH, ΩCa, and ΩAr were also measured. Low means of pCO2, and high means of ΩCa and ΩAr, were measured during the rainy season. At Las Monas, the composition of the calcifier community differed between seasons. A seasonal effect on net calcification was recorded in the semi-enclosed reef and in the exposed microhabitat of both reefs. Overall, net calcification (mean ± SD) was 1.17 ± 1.13 g·CaCO3·m−2·day−1. Calcification in the open fringing reef (1.51 ± 1.32 g·CaCO3·m−2·day−1) was almost double that in the semi-enclosed reef (0.83 ± 0.78 g·CaCO3·m−2·day−1). Calcification also decreased dramatically between 2014 (1.57 g·CaCO3·m−2·day−1) and 2016 (0.99 g·CaCO3·m−2·day−1). The ENSO event of 2015 raised the water temperature almost 1 °C above the decadal average, which led to a mass coral bleaching in both reefs. That thermal stress might explain the calcification decline in 2015–2016, but probably also obscured a clearer seasonal pattern in net calcification. This study is the first to show that anomalous and persistent high seawater temperatures can affect carbonate production by secondary calcifiers.

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A space-time mosaic of seawater carbonate chemistry conditions in the north-shore Moorea coral reef system

The interplay between ocean circulation and coral metabolism creates highly variable biogeochemical conditions in space and time across tropical coral reefs. Yet, relatively little is known quantitatively about the spatiotemporal structure of these variations. To address this gap, we use the Coupled Ocean Atmosphere Wave and Sediment Transport (COAWST) model, to which we added the Biogeochemical Elemental Cycling (BEC) model computing the biogeochemical processes in the water column, and a coral polyp physiology module that interactively simulates coral photosynthesis, respiration and calcification. The coupled model, configured for the north-shore of Moorea Island, successfully simulates the observed (i) circulation across the wave regimes, (ii) magnitude of the metabolic rates, and (iii) large gradients in biogeochemical conditions across the reef. Owing to the interaction between coral net community production (NCP) and coral calcification, the model simulates distinct day versus night gradients, especially for pH and the saturation state of seawater with respect to aragonite (Ωα). The strength of the gradients depends non-linearly on the wave regime and the resulting residence time of water over the reef with the low wave regime creating conditions that are considered as “extremely marginal” for corals. With the average water parcel passing more than twice over the reef, recirculation contributes further to the accumulation of these metabolic signals. We find diverging temporal and spatial relationships between total alkalinity (TA) and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) (≈ 0.16 for the temporal vs. ≈ 1.8 for the spatial relationship), indicating the importance of scale of analysis for this metric. Distinct biogeochemical niches emerge from the simulated variability, i.e., regions where the mean and variance of the conditions are considerably different from each other. Such biogeochemical niches might cause large differences in the exposure of individual corals to the stresses associated with e.g., ocean acidification. At the same time, corals living in the different biogeochemical niches might have adapted to the differing conditions, making the reef, perhaps, more resilient to change. Thus, a better understanding of the mosaic of conditions in a coral reef might be useful to assess the health of a coral reef and to develop improved management strategies.

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Climate change impacts on the coral reefs of the UK Overseas Territory of the Pitcairn Islands: resilience and adaptation considerations

The coral reefs of the Pitcairn Islands are in one of the most remote areas of the Pacific Ocean, and yet they are exposed to the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. The Pitcairn Islands Marine Protected Area was designated in 2016 and is one of the largest in the world, but the marine environment around these highly isolated islands remains poorly documented. Evidence collated here indicates that while the Pitcairn Islands’ reefs have thus far been relatively sheltered from the effect of warming sea temperatures, there is substantial risk of future coral decalcification due to ocean acidification. The projected acceleration in the rate of sea level rise, and the reefs’ exposure to risks from distant ocean swells and cold-water intrusions, add further uncertainty as to whether these islands and their reefs will continue to adapt and persist into the future. Coordinated action within the context of the Pitcairn Islands Marine Protected Area can help enhance the resilience of the reefs in the Pitcairn Islands. Options include management of other human pressures, control of invasive species and active reef interventions. More research, however, is needed in order to better assess what are the most appropriate and feasible options to protect these reefs.

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Responses of corals and coral reef ecosystems to ocean acidification under variable temperature and light

Coral reefs are under increasing pressure from ocean acidification. However, much of our understanding is based on single-species aquarium experiments made in isolation from realistic environmental parameters (e.g. light, water flow, food supply) and other co occurring stressors (e.g. increasing sea surface temperatures, reduced water clarity due to terrestrial runoff). In my PhD project I aimed to understand how ocean acidification affects the ecophysiology of reef corals and reef communities in natural settings, and how effects may differ with concurrent exposure to variable temperature and light. I used a combination of experimental and observational studies at unique field sites with naturally high levels of CO2 (CO2 seep sites), and multi-factor experiments in the aquarium facilities of The Australian Institute of Marine Science’s National Sea Simulator to address these questions.

In chapter 2, I investigated if corals can acclimate to ocean acidification by switching their photosymbionts to types that may be able to utilise the more abundant CO2 in photosynthesis. I used molecular techniques to investigate the dominant photosymbiont types in six species of coral from the field and found them to be highly conserved within species between CO2 seep and control sites. In chapter 3, I used a combination of field surveys and a multifactor laboratory experiment to investigate if elevated CO2 increased the severity of coral thermal bleaching. Field surveys during a bleaching event at the CO2 seeps, as well as the experimental study, both showed that corals were not significantly more susceptible to thermal stress under high CO2. In chapter 4, I used a multifactor laboratory experiment to investigate if reduced or variable daily light availability affected the responses of corals to high CO2. Here I found that reductions in light levels, regardless of the variability in daily light integrals, can reduce coral growth rates more than high CO2. In chapter 5, I followed the development of early successional coral reef benthic communities on settlement tiles along a gradient of CO2 exposure at the seep sites, and further measured rates of community metabolism. Here high CO2 strongly influenced the development of communities, shifting them away from a dominance of calcifying taxa under present day conditions to a range of non-calcifying algae as CO2 levels increased. These high CO2 communities progressively recorded lower rates of calcification and higher rates of hotosynthesis at high CO2.

Results from this thesis show that the considerable changes to the CO2 seep benthic communities are likely due to secondary ecological effects, rather than the physiological effects on corals alone. Moreover, the negative effects of cooccurring stressors on corals and coral reefs will also be substantial. Hence there is an immediate need to reduce atmospheric CO2 emissions and improve the management of local stressors to prevent further declines to the health and functioning of coral reef ecosystems.

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