Posts Tagged 'discussion'

Could some coral reefs become sponge reefs as our climate changes?

Coral reefs across the world have been seriously degraded and have a bleak future in response to predicted global warming and ocean acidification (OA). However, this is not the first time that biocalcifying organisms, including corals, have faced the threat of extinction. The end-Triassic mass extinction (200 million years ago) was the most severe biotic crisis experienced by modern marine invertebrates, which selected against biocalcifiers; this was followed by the proliferation of another invertebrate group, sponges. The duration of this sponge-dominated period far surpasses that of alternative stable-ecosystem or phase-shift states reported on modern day coral reefs and, as such, a shift to sponge-dominated reefs warrants serious consideration as one future trajectory of coral reefs. We hypothesise that some coral reefs of today may become sponge reefs in the future, as sponges and corals respond differently to changing ocean chemistry and environmental conditions. To support this hypothesis, we discuss: 1) the presence of sponge reefs in the geological record; 2) reported shifts from coral- to sponge-dominated systems; and 3) direct and indirect responses of the sponge holobiont and its constituent parts (host and symbionts) to changes in temperature and pH. Based on this evidence, we propose that sponges may be one group to benefit from projected climate change and ocean acidification scenarios, and that increased sponge abundance represents a possible future trajectory for some coral reefs, which would have important implications for overall reef functioning.

Continue reading ‘Could some coral reefs become sponge reefs as our climate changes?’

Palaeontology: plankton in a greenhouse world

The Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum was marked by global warming and ocean acidification. Fossil and experimental analyses show that different species of marine calcifying algae responded very differently to the environmental upheavals.

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Enhanced chemical weathering as a geoengineering strategy to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, a nutrient source and to mitigate ocean acidification

[1] Chemical weathering is an integral part of both the rock and carbon cycles and is being affected by changes in land use, particularly as a result of agricultural practices such as tilling, mineral fertilization, or liming to adjust soil pH. These human activities have already altered the chemical terrestrial cycles and land-ocean flux of major elements, although the extent remains difficult to quantify. When deployed on a grand scale, Enhanced Weathering (a form of mineral fertilization), the application of finely ground minerals over the land surface, could be used to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The release of cations during the dissolution of such silicate minerals would convert dissolved CO2 to bicarbonate, increasing the alkalinity and pH of natural waters. Some products of mineral dissolution would precipitate in soils or taken up by ecosystems, but a significant portion would be transported to the coastal zone and the open ocean, where the increase in alkalinity would partially counteract “ocean acidification” associated with the current marked increase in atmospheric CO2. Other elements released during this mineral dissolution, like Si, P or K, could stimulate biological productivity, further helping to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. On land, the terrestrial carbon-pool would likely increase in response to Enhanced Weathering in areas where ecosystem growth rates are currently limited by one of the nutrients that would be released during mineral dissolution.In the ocean, the biological carbon pumps (which export organic matter and CaCO3 to the deep ocean) may be altered by the resulting influx of nutrients and alkalinity to the ocean.

[2] This review merges current interdisciplinary knowledge about Enhanced Weathering, the processes involved, and the applicability as well as some of the consequences and risks of applying the method.

Continue reading ‘Enhanced chemical weathering as a geoengineering strategy to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, a nutrient source and to mitigate ocean acidification’

Taxonomic composition and environmental distribution of post-extinction rhynchonelliform brachiopod faunas: constraints on short-term survival and the role of anoxia in the end-Permian mass extinction

Marine taxonomic losses during the end-Permian mass extinction were driven by physiological stresses from ocean warming, acidification, and anoxia that ultimately resulted from CO2 release from Siberian Traps flood volcanism. Despite abundant proxy evidence for anoxia, its role is not well resolved because the timing and selectivity of the extinction are better explained by warming and ocean acidification. We studied the taxonomic composition and spatial and temporal distribution of brachiopod-rich post-extinction faunas, which contain short-lived Permian survivors that lived at a key time during and immediately after the peak of the extinction, to elucidate the controls on survival and the role of anoxia. Holdover brachiopods primarily belong to extinct families and orders, not to long-term survivors, and their probability of short-term survival was a function of pre-extinction metapopulation size. Although short-term survival appears to have been stochastic, likely because of intraspecific variation in tolerance within larger metapopulations, opportunistic and possibly dysaerobic-tolerant genera thrived locally. Rhynchonelliform brachiopod distribution was patchy, both environmentally and temporally. They were more abundant in shallow-water settings, consistent with an oxygenated habitable zone, and their local demise often corresponded with the local development of low-oxygen conditions. Thus, although warming and acidification may have been the primary triggers of taxonomic loss, the addition of spatially and temporally variable anoxic conditions exacerbated physiological stress and contributed to ultimate extinction of short-lived survivors. The combination of the three stresses – warming, acidification, and anoxia – which act synergistically to negatively affect respiratory physiology of marine invertebrates, may explain the severity of the end-Permian extinction and provides a sobering analogue for modern ocean acidification and anoxic dead zones.

Continue reading ‘Taxonomic composition and environmental distribution of post-extinction rhynchonelliform brachiopod faunas: constraints on short-term survival and the role of anoxia in the end-Permian mass extinction’

Low calcification in corals in the Great Barrier Reef

Reef-building coral communities in the Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest coral reef—may now be calcifying at only about half the rate that they did during the 1970s, even though live coral cover may not have changed over the past 40 years, a new study finds. In recent decades, coral reefs around the world, home to large numbers of fish and other marine species, have been threatened by such human activities as pollution, overfishing, global warming, and ocean acidification; the latter affects ambient water chemistry and availability of calcium ions, which are critical for coral communities to calcify, build, and maintain reefs. Comparing data from reef surveys during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s with present-day (2009) measurements of calcification rates in One Tree Island, a coral reef covering 13 square kilometers in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef, Silverman et al. show that the total calcification rates (the rate of calcification minus the rate of dissolution) in these coral communities have decreased by 44% over the past 40 years; the decrease appears to stem from a threefold reduction in calcification rates during nighttime.

Continue reading ‘Low calcification in corals in the Great Barrier Reef’

Mineral fine structure of the American lobster cuticle

A major role of lobster integument is protection from microbes. Calcite and amorphous calcium carbonate are the most abundant and most acid vulnerable of the cuticle minerals. We propose that calcite is invested in neutralizing an acidifying environment modulated by the epicuticle. A minor cuticle component is carbonate apatite (CAP), proposed to play critical roles in the integument’s structural protective function. The CAP of lobster exhibits a flexible composition; its least soluble forms line the cuticular canals most exposed to the environment. A trabecular CAP structure illustrates efficient use of a sparse phosphate resource, cooperating in the hardness of the inner exocuticle. A schematic model of the cuticle emphasizes structural and chemical diversity. A thin outer calcite layer provides a dense microbial barrier that dissolves slowly through the epicuticle, providing an external, alkaline, unstirred layer that would be inhibitory to bacterial movement and metabolism. Injury to the epicuticle covering this mineralized surface unleashes an immediate efflux of carbonate, accentuating the normal alkalinity of an antimicrobial unstirred layer. The trabecular CAP inner exocuticle provides rigidity to prevent bending and cracking of the calcite outer exocuticle. The combined mineral fine structure of lobster cuticle supports antimicrobial function as well as plays a structural protective role.

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Global oceanic production of nitrous oxide

We use transient time distributions calculated from tracer data together with in situ measurements of nitrous oxide (N2O) to estimate the concentration of biologically produced N2O and N2O production rates in the ocean on a global scale. Our approach to estimate the N2O production rates integrates the effects of potentially varying production and decomposition mechanisms along the transport path of a water mass. We estimate that the oceanic N2O production is dominated by nitrification with a contribution of only approximately 7 per cent by denitrification. This indicates that previously used approaches have overestimated the contribution by denitrification. Shelf areas may account for only a negligible fraction of the global production; however, estuarine sources and coastal upwelling of N2O are not taken into account in our study. The largest amount of subsurface N2O is produced in the upper 500 m of the water column. The estimated global annual subsurface N2O production ranges from 3.1 ± 0.9 to 3.4 ± 0.9 Tg N yr−1. This is in agreement with estimates of the global N2O emissions to the atmosphere and indicates that a N2O source in the mixed layer is unlikely. The potential future development of the oceanic N2O source in view of the ongoing changes of the ocean environment (deoxygenation, warming, eutrophication and acidification) is discussed.

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