Posts Tagged 'nutrients'

Sensitivities to global change drivers may correlate positively or negatively in a foundational marine macroalga

Ecological impact of global change is generated by multiple synchronous or asynchronous drivers which interact with each other and with intraspecific variability of sensitivities. In three near-natural experiments, we explored response correlations of full-sibling germling families of the seaweed Fucus vesiculosus towards four global change drivers: elevated CO2 (ocean acidification, OA), ocean warming (OW), combined OA and warming (OAW), nutrient enrichment and hypoxic upwelling. Among families, performance responses to OA and OW as well as to OAW and nutrient enrichment correlated positively whereas performance responses to OAW and hypoxia anti-correlated. This indicates (i) that families robust to one of the three drivers (OA, OW, nutrients) will also not suffer from the two other shifts, and vice versa and (ii) families benefitting from OAW will more easily succumb to hypoxia. Our results may imply that selection under either OA, OW or eutrophication would enhance performance under the other two drivers but simultaneously render the population more susceptible to hypoxia. We conclude that intraspecific response correlations have a high potential to boost or hinder adaptation to multifactorial global change scenarios.

Continue reading ‘Sensitivities to global change drivers may correlate positively or negatively in a foundational marine macroalga’

Reef dissolution : rates and mechanisms of coral dissolution by bioeroding sponges and reef communities

For coral reefs to persist, the rate of CaCO3 production must be greater than the rate of erosion to enable positive growth. Negative impacts of global change (ocean acidification and warming) and local stressors (eutrophication, overfishing) on accretion co-occur with positive effects of these changes on bioerosion capacity and chemical dissolution by excavating euendolithic organisms. This is especially relevant for reefs characterised with low calcifying rates as they will tip faster into net loss. The Caribbean reefs suffered from a decrease by up to 80% in scleractinian coral cover in the past 50 years, their configuration bears very little resemblance with reefs pre1980s, in terms of benthic composition, coral cover and structural complexity. Specifically, excavating sponges can contribute up to 90% of the total macroborer activity on coral reefs and their rates of bioerosion are positively affected by pCO2. The overarching aim of this thesis was to quantify and understand the accretion and loss terms of coral reef communities with a focus on the interactions of anthropogenic ocean acidification and eutrophication with bioerosion by coral-excavating sponges.The use of incubations was central in this piece of work. Changes in the chemical composition of the water overlying sponges and reef communities indicate the relative contribution of metabolic processes such as net calcification/dissolution and net respiration/production. However, we first used fluorescence microscopy to investigate the underlying mechanisms of CaCO3 dissolution by excavating sponges. It revealed that they promote CaCO3 dissolution by decreasing pH at the sponge/coral interface. The high [H+] at this site is achieved through delivery of low-pH vesicles by the etching cells. The enzyme carbonic anhydrase, which is responsible for significantly increasing the speed of the reversible reaction H2O+CO2↔H++HCO3−, has been shown to be associated to the sponge’s etching processes and is therefore thought to play a role in the dissolution of CaCO3. By blocking its activity whilst incubating sponges and analysing the rate of dissolution, CA was found to play an important role in speeding up protonation of HCO3− ions at the dissolution site, enabling CO2 to diffuse out of the etching area. When exposed to different ranges of ocean acidification and eutrophication, bioerosion rates increased with both variables but no synergistic relation was revealed. Incubations performed at the community level around Saba and Curacao yielded net community calcification (NCC) rates which were lower than those reported for reef flats worldwide. Still, Saba coral reefs are considered relatively pristine sites compared to the average within the wider Caribbean. Around Curaçao, incubations on reef assemblages dominated by coral yielded even lower NCC rates. Incubations of other benthic assemblages that currently characterized shallow Caribbean reef substrate (such as bioeroding sponges, benthic cyanobacterial mats and sand) all resulted in net dissolution. For both Saba and Curaçao, results suggest that reef calcification on these sites is barely able to compensate the CaCO3 losses due to dissolution from other opportunistic benthic residents. With the ongoing global and local pressures, the delicate balance between CaCO3 accretion and loss is likely to tip.

Continue reading ‘Reef dissolution : rates and mechanisms of coral dissolution by bioeroding sponges and reef communities’

Behavioural and eco-physiological responses of the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis to acidification and distinct feeding regimes

The carbon dioxide taken up by the ocean is increasing as levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase, thus lowering the ocean pH and altering the carbonate system. In this laboratory study, we evaluated the physiological responses of juvenile mussels Mytilus galloprovincialis from Galician waters (NW Iberian Peninsula) exposed to control (500 µatm) and elevated (800 or 1200 µatm) seawater pCO2 conditions under 2 different feeding regimes (optimal and suboptimal). Shell properties such as compressive strength and composition (organic matter and aragonite:calcite ratio) were negatively affected by high seawater pCO2, regardless of food availability. This result suggests that water chemistry is a main driver for shell development. Under the optimal feeding regime, mussel feeding rates increased in response to elevated pCO2, presumably as a strategy to maintain a high strength of attachment. In contrast, mussels on the suboptimal diet showed weak attachment and narrow valve opening at the highest pCO2 condition. Thus, our results suggest that with optimal food availability, mussels were resilient to water acidification with respect to feeding activity, valve opening and attachment strength. Under a suboptimal diet, however, the ability of mussels to respond to acidification was compromised. These results highlight complex ecophysiological interactions for calcifying organisms subjected to climate change.

Continue reading ‘Behavioural and eco-physiological responses of the mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis to acidification and distinct feeding regimes’

Exploring the interactions and implications between ocean acidification and eutrophication in Budd inlet

Ocean Acidification is one of the greatest symptoms that climate change has inflicted on marine environments. Oceans naturally absorb carbon dioxide, however anthropogenic CO2 has manifested greater adverse influences on marine life, which is stressing our ability to use these resources. Ocean pH has dropped 30% to 8.1 since the industrial age, however the pH reduction along coastlines and within estuaries has deteriorated even more, having a greater need to be monitored. Acidification is worse, especially around the Puget Sound because of high nutrient loads flowing into the Puget Sound from coastal communities, and other human industrial scale activities like agriculture. Nutrients, primarily in the form of nitrogen, increase algae and microbe primary productivity, eventually outputting new CO2 through biological processes, resulting in amplification of the effect greenhouse gases are already exerting on marine ecosystems. This thesis project explored this relationship by looking at water samples collected from five locations in Budd inlet, and were tested for pH, nitrate, alkalinity. These variables were collected with the goal of determining if there was a noticeable difference between sample locations, and if there was a correlation between these variables all in context to the city of Olympia and Capitol Lake having some influence on findings. Results found no clear statistically significant differences between each variables and sample sites, however pH and nitrate concentrations had the greatest correlation. This suggests nutrients are indeed contributing significantly towards furthering acidification, more so than can be determined by CO2 emissions levels alone. More research is warranted on establishing causal relationships between nutrient loads and acidification levels in all Puget Sound inlets.

Continue reading ‘Exploring the interactions and implications between ocean acidification and eutrophication in Budd inlet’

The influence of paleo-seawater chemistry on foraminifera trace element proxies and their application to deep-time paleo-reconstructions

The fossilized remains of the calcite shells of foraminifera comprise one of the most continuous and reliable records of the geologic evolution of climate and ocean chemistry. The trace elemental composition of foraminiferal shells has been shown to systematically respond to seawater properties, providing a way to reconstruct oceanic conditions throughout the last 170 million years. In particular, the boron/calcium ratio of foraminiferal calcite (B/Ca) is an emerging proxy for the seawater carbonate system, which plays a major role in regulating atmospheric CO2 and thus Earth’s climate. In planktic foraminifera, previous culture studies have shown that shell B/Ca increases with seawater pH, which is hypothesized to result from increased incorporation of borate ion (B(OH)4 -) at high pH; increasing pH increases the [B(OH)4 -] of seawater. However, further experiments showed that B/Ca responds to both pH and seawater dissolved inorganic carbon concentration (DIC), leading to the hypothesis that B/Ca is driven by the [B(OH)4 -/DIC] ratio of seawater. Because pH (and thus B(OH)4 -) can be determined via the δ11B composition of foraminiferal calcite, B/Ca therefore may provide an opportunity to determine seawater DIC in the geologic past.

Continue reading ‘The influence of paleo-seawater chemistry on foraminifera trace element proxies and their application to deep-time paleo-reconstructions’

Ocean acidification alters meiobenthic assemblage composition and organic matter degradation rates in seagrass sediments

Seagrass meadows are an important organic matter (OM) reservoir but, are currently being lost due to global and regional stressors. Yet, there is limited research investigating the cumulative impacts of anthropogenic stressors on the structure and functioning of seagrass benthic assemblages, key drivers of OM mineralization and burial. Here, using a 16‐month field experiment, we assessed how meiobenthic assemblages and extracellular enzymatic activities (as a proxy of OM degradation) in Posidonia oceanica sediments responded to ocean acidification (OA) and nutrient loadings, at CO2 vents. P. oceanica meadows were exposed to three nutrient levels (control, moderate, and high) at both ambient and low pH sites. OA altered meiobenthic assemblage structure, resulting in increased abundance of annelids and crustaceans, along with a decline in foraminifera. In addition, low pH enhanced OM degradation rates in seagrass sediments by enhancing extracellular enzymatic activities, potentially decreasing the sediment carbon storage capacity of seagrasses. Nutrient enrichment had no effect on the response variables analyzed, suggesting that, under nutrient concentration unlikely to cause N or P imitation, a moderate increase of dissolved nutrients in the water column had limited influence on meiobenthic assemblages. These findings show that OA can significantly alter meiobenthic assemblage structure and enhance OM degradation rates in seagrass sediments. As meiofauna are ubiquitous key actors in the functioning of benthic ecosystems, we postulated that OA, altering the structure of meiobenthic assemblages and OM degradation, could affect organic carbon sequestration over large spatial scales.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification alters meiobenthic assemblage composition and organic matter degradation rates in seagrass sediments’

Marine mass mortality in a global change context: impacts on individuals, populations and communities

Human actions are pushing natural systems into states that have no historical precedent. In response, empirical and theoretical researchers are increasingly focused on developing ways to predict the responses of ecological systems to change. However, significant knowledge gaps remain, often leading to “ecological surprises” where observed impacts of global change do not align with existing theory or hypotheses. In this dissertation, I study the response to perturbations of a well-characterized system for ecological research, the Northeast Pacific rocky intertidal, to advance our understanding of and ability to predict the impacts of global change on individuals, populations and communities. In 2013 and 2014, sea star species along the west coast of North America were affected by an outbreak of Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS), resulting in an epidemic of mass mortality that spanned unprecedented geographic and temporal scales and resulted in the near extirpation of multiple sea star species from many locations along the coast. One of the species that was most strongly affected in the intertidal zone was Pisaster ochraceus, an iconic predatory sea star that has the ability to play a keystone role in its community through foraging on and ultimately controlling the lower boundary of mussel prey populations. The first two chapters of this dissertation take advantage of SSWS as a “natural” form of top predator removal to assess the consequences of this type of perturbation on ecosystem resilience. In Chapter 2, I tested the hypotheses that P. ochraceus loss would facilitate a population expansion of a smaller, mesopredator sea star, Leptasterias sp., and that this expansion would have negative effects on P. ochraceus population recovery. This result would follow expectations of competitive release and aligns with existing research on the competitive relationship between these species from the Northeast Pacific intertidal. I used field surveys to track Leptasterias populations just before the onset of and up to three years after SSWS. Contrary to expectation, I did not see an increase in the distribution or density of Leptasterias, and instead saw a decrease in individual size post-SSWS. Further, I found no evidence of competition between P. ochraceus recruits and Leptasterias for resources. Thus, although my hypotheses were grounded in theory and previous research, they were not supported by data. These results suggest that Leptasterias will not provide a bottleneck for P. ochraceus population recovery from SSWS, nor compensate for lowered P. ochraceus predation. The dynamics of P. ochraceus at the recruit (early benthic juvenile) life-history stage has long been considered a gap in our understanding of the species, as recruits have been historically rare in the intertidal and hard to study. Post-SSWS, however, many sites along the coast experienced unprecedented recruitment of P. ochraceus into intertidal ecosystems. In Chapter 3, I used a field experiment to test the hypothesis that this pulse of recruitment was facilitated by SSWS-related adult loss, the consequent decrease in predation by adult P. ochraceus, and increase in prey availability for recruits. Instead of finding evidence that adults dominate recruits in food competition and inhibit recruit success, I found that recruits have a negative effect on P. ochraceus adult densities. Further, treatments where recruits were excluded and only adults had access to prey communities showed the highest control of sessile invertebrate prey populations at the end of the year-long experiment. Thus, these results suggest that adult P. ochraceus will not hinder recruit recovery, but propose a mechanism whereby high recruit densities may increase vulnerability to SSWS-induced shifts in community structure. Outbreaks of mass mortality, particularly those as widespread as SSWS, are one of many ecological challenges driven by anthropogenic environmental changes such as warming and ocean acidification. However, predicting the vulnerability of species and populations to global change is an ongoing and significant challenge for researchers and managers. In Chapter 4 I assessed whether intraspecific physiological variability could help predict P. ochraceus recruit response to ocean acidification and warming. I found that individual metabolic rate interacted with ocean acidification and food availability to drive sea star growth, and that an interaction between metabolic rate and temperature also predicted sea star predation on Mytilus spp. mussels. Thus, these results have implications not only for P. ochraceus but also for its food web interactions. Incorporating these results into predictive frameworks may improve our ability to anticipate and scale up responses to global change across levels of ecological organization. In summary, my dissertation, although chock-full of surprises, presents several paths forward for improving predictive ability in the face of accelerating anthropogenic global changes. Further, we reinforce the notion that management strategies should be cautious and anticipate ecological surprises. Predicting the future is challenging even when predictions are well-informed, particularly in environmental contexts that have never been encountered before.

Continue reading ‘Marine mass mortality in a global change context: impacts on individuals, populations and communities’


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