Posts Tagged 'calcification'

Ocean acidification reduces net calcification and wound healing in the tropical crustose coralline alga, Porolithon onkodes (Corallinales, Rhodophyta)


  • Wounding did not affect net calcification or tissue mortality in Porolithon onkodes.
  • In contrast, elevated pCO2 reduced net calcification and living tissue.
  • Elevated pCO2 also reduced tissue regeneration within wounds.
  • Reduced wound healing under elevated pCO2 could affect the ecology of coralline algae.


Reef dwelling algae employ a variety of physical and chemical defenses against herbivory, and the response to wounding is extremely important in algal communities. Wound healing mechanisms in crustose coralline algae (CCA) are related to skeletal growth and net calcification rate. Ocean acidification (OA) is known to affect rates of net calcification in a number of calcifying organisms, including CCA. Reduced rates of net calcification in CCA are likely to alter wound healing, and thus affect the consequences of herbivore-CCA interactions on coral reefs. The response of the tropical CCA Porolithon onkodes to OA and artificial wounding was quantified in a 51-day laboratory experiment. Eight artificially wounded (cut to a mean depth of 182 μm) and eight non-wounded samples of P. onkodes were randomly placed into each of four treatments (n = 64 samples total). Each treatment was maintained at a different pCO2 level representative of either ambient conditions or end-of-the-century, predicted conditions (IPCC, 2014); 429.31 ± 20.84 (ambient), 636.54 ± 27.29 (RCP4.5), 827.33 ± 38.51 (RCP6.0), and 1179.39 ± 88.85 μatm (RCP8.5; mean ± standard error). Elevated pCO2 significantly reduced rates of net calcification in both wounded and non-wounded samples of P. onkodes (slopes = −6.4 × 10−4 and −5.5 × 10−4 mg cm−2 d−1 per μatm pCO2, respectively over 51 days). There also was a significant reduction in the rate of vertical regeneration of thallus tissue within the wounds as pCO2 increased (slope = −1.5 × 10−3 μm d−1 per μatm pCO2 over 51 days). This study provides evidence that elevated pCO2 could reduce the ability of this important alga to recover from wounding. Because wounding by herbivores plays an important role in determining CCA community structure, we propose reduced wound healing as a mechanism by which OA might affect the structure and functional roles of CCA communities on coral reefs.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification reduces net calcification and wound healing in the tropical crustose coralline alga, Porolithon onkodes (Corallinales, Rhodophyta)’

Flow-driven micro-scale pH variability affects the physiology of corals and coralline algae under ocean acidification

Natural variability in pH in the diffusive boundary layer (DBL), the discrete layer of seawater between bulk seawater and the outer surface of organisms, could be an important factor determining the response of corals and coralline algae to ocean acidification (OA). Here, two corals with different morphologies and one coralline alga were maintained under two different regimes of flow velocities, pH, and light intensities in a 12 flumes experimental system for a period of 27 weeks. We used a combination of geochemical proxies, physiological and micro-probe measurements to assess how these treatments affected the conditions in the DBL and the response of organisms to OA. Overall, low flow velocity did not ameliorate the negative effect of low pH and therefore did not provide a refugia from OA. Flow velocity had species-specific effects with positive effects on calcification for two species. pH in the calcifying fluid (pHcf) was reduced by low flow in both corals at low light only. pHcf was significantly impacted by pH in the DBL for the two species capable of significantly modifying pH in the DBL. The dissolved inorganic carbon in the calcifying fluid (DICcf) was highest under low pH for the corals and low flow for the coralline, while the saturation state in the calcifying fluid and its proxy (FWHM) were generally not affected by the treatments. This study therefore demonstrates that the effects of OA will manifest most severely in a combination of lower light and lower flow habitats for sub-tropical coralline algae. These effects will also be greatest in lower flow habitats for some corals. Together with existing literature, these findings reinforce that the effects of OA are highly context dependent, and will differ greatly between habitats, and depending on species composition.

Continue reading ‘Flow-driven micro-scale pH variability affects the physiology of corals and coralline algae under ocean acidification’

Multi-decadal change in reef-scale production and calcification associated with recent disturbances on a Lizard Island reef flat

Climate change is threatening the persistence of coral reef ecosystems resulting in both chronic and acute impacts which include higher frequency and severity of cyclones, warming sea surface temperatures, and ocean acidification. This study measured net ecosystem primary production (NEP) and net ecosystem calcification (NEC) on a reef flat after the most severe El Nino-driven mass bleaching event on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in 2016 and again in 2018 after another consecutive bleaching event in 2017. Our results indicate temporal changes in reef metabolism likely as result of both the continuing press disturbance of ocean acidification and severe pulse disturbances (cyclones and bleaching events). In 2016, NEP was within the range of values reported in past studies, however, it declined in 2018. NEC over a 12-h period was lower in 2016 than 2018; but when compared with past studies there was a severe decline in daytime net calcification from 2008–2009, to 2016 followed by an increase in 2018 (but still NEC remained lower than values reported in 2008–2009). Conversely, nighttime net calcification was similar to that reported in 2009 indicating nighttime dissolution did not increase over the past decade. Overall coral cover remained stable following recent disturbances, however, algal turf was the dominant benthic component on the reef flat, while calcifiers (corals and calcified algae) were minor components (<20% of total benthic cover). This study documented temporal changes in community function following major pulse disturbances (bleaching events and cyclones) within the context of ongoing OA at the same location over the last decade. Repeated pulse disturbances could jeopardize the persistence of the reef flat as a net calcifying entity, with the potential for cascading effects on other ecosystem services.

Continue reading ‘Multi-decadal change in reef-scale production and calcification associated with recent disturbances on a Lizard Island reef flat’

Mangrove lagoons of the Great Barrier Reef support coral populations persisting under extreme environmental conditions

Global degradation of coral reefs has increased the urgency of identifying stress-tolerant coral populations, to enhance understanding of the biology driving stress tolerance, as well as identifying stocks of stress-hardened populations to aid reef rehabilitation. Surprisingly, scientists are continually discovering that naturally extreme environments house established coral populations adapted to grow within extreme abiotic conditions comparable to seawater conditions predicted over the coming century. Such environments include inshore mangrove lagoons that carry previously unrecognised ecosystem service value for corals, spanning from refuge to stress preconditioning. However, the existence of such hot-spots of resilience on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) remains entirely unknown. Here we describe, for the first time, 2 extreme GBR mangrove lagoons (Woody Isles and Howick Island), exposing taxonomically diverse coral communities (34 species, 7 growth morphologies) to regular extreme low pH (<7.6), low oxygen (7°C) conditions. Coral cover was typically low (0.5 m diameter), with net photosynthesis and calcification rates of 2 dominant coral species (Acropora millepora, Porites lutea) reduced (20-30%), and respiration enhanced (11-35%), in the mangrove lagoon relative to adjacent reefs. Further analysis revealed that physiological plasticity (photosynthetic ‘strategy’) and flexibility of Symbiodiniaceae taxa associations appear crucial in supporting coral capacity to thrive from reef to lagoon. Prevalence of corals within these extreme conditions on the GBR (and elsewhere) increasingly challenge our understanding of coral resilience to stressors, and highlight the need to study unfavourable coral environments to better resolve mechanisms of stress tolerance.

Continue reading ‘Mangrove lagoons of the Great Barrier Reef support coral populations persisting under extreme environmental conditions’

Positive genetic associations among fitness traits support evolvability of a reef‐building coral under multiple stressors

Climate change threatens organisms in a variety of interactive ways that requires simultaneous adaptation of multiple traits. Predicting evolutionary responses requires an understanding of the potential for interactions among stressors and the genetic variance and covariance among fitness‐related traits that may reinforce or constrain an adaptive response. Here we investigate the capacity of Acropora millepora, a reef‐building coral, to adapt to multiple environmental stressors: rising sea surface temperature, ocean acidification, and increased prevalence of infectious diseases. We measured growth rates (weight gain), coral color (a proxy for Symbiodiniaceae density), and survival, in addition to nine physiological indicators of coral and algal health in 40 coral genets exposed to each of these three stressors singly and combined. Individual stressors resulted in predicted responses (e.g., corals developed lesions after bacterial challenge and bleached under thermal stress). However, corals did not suffer substantially more when all three stressors were combined. Nor were trade‐offs observed between tolerances to different stressors; instead, individuals performing well under one stressor also tended to perform well under every other stressor. An analysis of genetic correlations between traits revealed positive covariances, suggesting that selection to multiple stressors will reinforce rather than constrain the simultaneous evolution of traits related to holobiont health (e.g., weight gain and algal density). These findings support the potential for rapid coral adaptation under climate change and emphasize the importance of accounting for corals’ adaptive capacity when predicting the future of coral reefs.

Continue reading ‘Positive genetic associations among fitness traits support evolvability of a reef‐building coral under multiple stressors’

Heterotrophy of oceanic particulate organic matter elevates net ecosystem calcification

Coral reef calcification is expected to decline due to climate change stressors such as ocean acidification and warming. Projections of future coral reef health are based on our understanding of the environmental drivers that affect calcification and dissolution. One such driver that may impact coral reef health is heterotrophy of oceanic‐sourced particulate organic matter, but its link to calcification has not been directly investigated in the field. In this study, we estimated net ecosystem calcification (NEC) and oceanic particulate organic carbon (POCoc) uptake across the Kāneʻohe Bay barrier reef in Hawai‘i. We show that higher rates of POCoc uptake correspond to greater NEC rates, even under low aragonite saturation states (Ωar). Hence, reductions in offshore productivity may negatively impact coral reefs by decreasing the food supply required to sustain calcification. Alternatively, coral reefs that receive ample inputs of POCoc may maintain higher calcification rates, despite a global decline in Ωar.

Continue reading ‘Heterotrophy of oceanic particulate organic matter elevates net ecosystem calcification’

The combined effects of ocean acidification with fleshy macroalgae and filamentous turfs on tropical crustose coralline algae

Global climate change induces multiple stressors on tropical coral reefs that threaten their persistence. Ocean acidification decreases calcification in most dominant reef builders, such as crustose coralline algae (CCA). Climate change also has the potential to increase the biomass of fleshy macroalgae and filamentous turf in coral reef ecosystems. While fleshy macroalgae and turf may shade, abrade, and have otherwise negative consequences on CCA metabolism, their high rates of photosynthesis may mitigate OA locally through carbon uptake, resulting in a local increase in pH. This thesis explored the effects of OA, combined with the presence of either fleshy macroalgae or algal turfs, on Lithophyllum kotschyanum, an abundant species of CCA in Moorea, French Polynesia. In a mesocosm study, three canopy types, clear mimics, dark mimics, and S. pacificum, were crossed with two CO2 levels, ambient (400 μatm) and elevated (1000 μatm). The clear, dark, and S. pacificum canopies resulted in stepwise decreases in calcification of L. kotschyanum. This response suggests that shading and likely flow moderation decrease CCA calcification. To separate the effects of fleshy macroalgal metabolism from the effects of its physical structure, a subsequent mesocosm and field experiment were performed. In the mesocosm study, a header tank that provided S. pacificum-treated seawater to treatment tanks was used to determine the metabolic effect of S. pacificum on L. kotschyanum. In the field, S. pacificum canopies were attached to 20  30 cm grids, upstream from CCA samples. Data from the mesocosm study support a positive effect of carbon uptake by S. pacificum, but the metabolic effect did not translate into the field. Because S. pacificum was placed in closer proximity to CCA samples in the field than in lab, the difference in L. kotschyanum calcification between the mesocosm and field experiment may be due to physical effects of the canopy in the field, such as shading. The combined results of these two studies suggest that upstream macroalgal communities have the potential to mitigate the negative effects of OA to downstream calcifiers, but will not benefit understory calcifiers. Finally, a mesocosm experiment was conducted to address the combined effects of OA and the presence of epiphytic turf algae on host CCA. In a factorial experiment, L. kotschyanum samples with and without epiphytic turf algae were placed in flow through tanks where pCO2 was ambient (400 μatm) or elevated (1000 μatm). Results indicated a significant effect of elevated pCO2 on CCA calcification and a negative effect of turf presence, despite a higher pH in the presence of turf during light incubations. This indicates that any benefit of higher daytime pH within the DBL of L. kotschyanum was outweighed by the negative effects, such as shading, nighttime anoxia and low pH. Overall, these studies indicate that fleshy macroalgae and filamentous turfs can raise seawater pH locally, but any benefit of this effect is outweighed by the negative effects of fleshy macroalgae and turf presence. The only instance during which CCA may incur a net benefit from fleshy macroalgae occurs when calcifiers are situated downstream of a dense macroalgal community, entirely unaffected by its physical structure. Ultimately, fleshy macroalgae and turf affect CCA negatively, regardless of OA treatment.

Continue reading ‘The combined effects of ocean acidification with fleshy macroalgae and filamentous turfs on tropical crustose coralline algae’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book