Posts Tagged 'phanerogams'

Short-term spatial and temporal carbonate chemistry variability in two contrasting seagrass meadows: implications for pH buffering capacities

It has been hypothesized that highly productive coastal ecosystems, such as seagrass meadows, could lead to the establishment of ocean acidification (OA) refugia, or areas of elevated pH and aragonite saturation state (Ωa) compared to source seawater. However, seagrass ecosystems experience extreme variability in carbonate chemistry across short temporal and small spatial scales, which could impact the pH buffering capacity of these potential refugia. Herein, short-term (hourly to diel) and small-scale (across 0.01–0.14 km2) spatiotemporal carbonate chemistry variability was assessed within two seagrass meadows in order to determine their short-term potential to elevate seawater pH relative to source seawater. Two locations at similar latitudes were chosen in order to compare systems dominated by coarse calcium carbonate (Bailey’s Bay, Bermuda) and muddy silicate (Mission Bay, CA, USA) sediments. In both systems, spatial variability of pH across the seagrass meadow at any given time was often greater than diel variability (e.g., the average range over 24 h) at any one site, with greater spatial variability occurring at low tide in Mission Bay. Mission Bay (spatial ΔpH = 0.08 ± 0.08; diel ΔpH = 0.12 ± 0.01; mean ± SD) had a greater average range in both temporal and spatial seawater chemistry than Bailey’s Bay (spatial ΔpH = 0.02 ± 0.01; diel ΔpH = 0.03 ± 0.00; mean ± SD). These differences were most likely due to a combination of slower currents, a larger tidal range, and more favorable weather conditions for photosynthesis (e.g., sunny with no rain) in Mission Bay. In both systems, there was a substantial amount of time (usually at night) when seawater pH within the seagrass beds was lower relative to the source seawater. Future studies aimed at assessing the potential of seagrass ecosystems to act as OA refugia for marine organisms need to account for the small-scale, high-frequency carbonate chemistry variability in both space and time, as this variability will impact where and when OA will be buffered or intensified.

Continue reading ‘Short-term spatial and temporal carbonate chemistry variability in two contrasting seagrass meadows: implications for pH buffering capacities’

Nutrient loading fosters seagrass productivity under ocean acidification

The effects of climate change are likely to be dependent on local settings. Nonetheless, the compounded effects of global and regional stressors remain poorly understood. Here, we used CO2 vents to assess how the effects of ocean acidification on the seagrass, Posidonia oceanica, and the associated epiphytic community can be modified by enhanced nutrient loading. P. oceanica at ambient and low pH sites was exposed to three nutrient levels for 16 months. The response of P. oceanica to experimental conditions was assessed by combining analyses of gene expression, plant growth, photosynthetic pigments and epiphyte loading. At low pH, nutrient addition fostered plant growth and the synthesis of photosynthetic pigments. Overexpression of nitrogen transporter genes following nutrient additions at low pH suggests enhanced nutrient uptake by the plant. In addition, enhanced nutrient levels reduced the expression of selected antioxidant genes in plants exposed to low pH and increased epiphyte cover at both ambient and low pH. Our results show that the effects of ocean acidification on P. oceanica depend upon local nutrient concentration. More generally, our findings suggest that taking into account local environmental settings will be crucial to advance our understanding of the effects of global stressors on marine systems.

Continue reading ‘Nutrient loading fosters seagrass productivity under ocean acidification’

Systems biology and the seagrass paradox: adaptation, acclimation, and survival of marine angiosperms in a changing ocean climate

Predicting adaptive fitness to any environment requires mechanistic understanding of environmental influence on metabolic networks that control energy assimilation, growth, and reproduction. Although the potential impacts of environment on gene products are myriad, important phenotypic responses are often regulated by a few key points in metabolic networks where externally supplied resources or physiological reaction substrates limit reaction kinetics. Environmental resources commonly limiting seagrass productivity, survival, and growth include light and CO2 availability that control carbon assimilation and sucrose formation. Phosphate availability can also be important in oligotrophic tropical environments, particularly in the presence of carbonate sediments. Temperature and macronutrient oversupply (eutrophication) can act as confounding stressors, particularly in temperate environments. Photoacclimation can be regulated by electron transport pathways residing in the chloroplast stroma, but stress responses are often manifest by the expression of generalized stress response proteins, both of which appear to be affected by temperature and CO2 availability. A systems approach is employed to explore (1) the responses of seagrasses to the combined impacts of environmental limiting factors that control fundamental physiological processes leading to whole-plant performance; (2) sediment diagenetic processes that facilitate nutrient remineralization, carbon sequestration, and toxin neutralization; (3) interactions with other organisms induced by trophic cascades; and (4) impacts of human-induced climate change that affect system dynamics at numerous points in the network.

Continue reading ‘Systems biology and the seagrass paradox: adaptation, acclimation, and survival of marine angiosperms in a changing ocean climate’

Global and local disturbances interact to modify seagrass palatability

Global change, such as warming and ocean acidification, and local anthropogenic disturbances, such as eutrophication, can have profound impacts on marine organisms. However, we are far from being able to predict the outcome of multiple interacting disturbances on seagrass communities. Herbivores are key in determining plant community structure and the transfer of energy up the food web. Global and local disturbances may alter the ecological role of herbivory by modifying leaf palatability (i.e. leaf traits) and consequently, the feeding patterns of herbivores. This study evaluates the main and interactive effects of factors related to global change (i.e. elevated temperature, lower pH levels and associated ocean acidification) and local disturbance (i.e. eutrophication through ammonium enrichment) on a broad spectrum of leaf traits using the temperate seagrass Cymodocea nodosa, including structural, nutritional, biomechanical and chemical traits. The effect of these traits on the consumption rates of the generalist herbivore Paracentrotus lividus (purple sea urchin) is evaluated. The three disturbances of warming, low pH level and eutrophication, alone and in combination, increased the consumption rate of seagrass by modifying all leaf traits. Leaf nutritional quality, measured as nitrogen content, was positively correlated to consumption rate. In contrast, a negative correlation was found between feeding decisions by sea urchins and structural, biomechanical and chemical leaf traits. In addition, a notable accomplishment of this work is the identification of phenolic compounds not previously reported for C. nodosa. Our results suggest that global and local disturbances may trigger a major shift in the herbivory of seagrass communities, with important implications for the resilience of seagrass ecosystems.

Continue reading ‘Global and local disturbances interact to modify seagrass palatability’

Macroalgae may mitigate ocean acidification effects on mussel calcification by increasing pH and its fluctuations

Ocean acidification (OA) is generally assumed to negatively impact calcification rates of marine organisms. At a local scale however, biological activity of macrophytes may generate pH fluctuations with rates of change that are orders of magnitude larger than the long-term trend predicted for the open ocean. These fluctuations may in turn impact benthic calcifiers in the vicinity. Combining laboratory, mesocosm and field studies, such interactions between OA, the brown alga Fucus vesiculosus, the sea grass Zostera marina and the blue mussel Mytilus edulis were investigated at spatial scales from decimetres to 100s of meters in the western Baltic. Macrophytes increased the overall mean pH of the habitat by up to 0.3 units relative to macrophyte-free, but otherwise similar, habitats and imposed diurnal pH fluctuations with amplitudes ranging from 0.3 to more than 1 pH unit. These amplitudes and their impact on mussel calcification tended to increase with increasing macrophyte biomass to bulk water ratio. At the laboratory and mesocosm scales, biogenic pH fluctuations allowed mussels to maintain calcification even under acidified conditions by shifting most of their calcification activity into the daytime when biogenic fluctuations caused by macrophyte activity offered temporal refuge from OA stress. In natural habitats with a low biomass to water body ratio, the impact of biogenic pH fluctuations on mean calcification rates of M. edulis was less pronounced. Thus, in dense algae or seagrass habitats, macrophytes may mitigate OA impact on mussel calcification by raising mean pH and providing temporal refuge from acidification stress.

Continue reading ‘Macroalgae may mitigate ocean acidification effects on mussel calcification by increasing pH and its fluctuations’

Response of Posidonia oceanica seagrass and its epibiont communities to ocean acidification

The unprecedented rate of CO2 increase in our atmosphere and subsequent ocean acidification (OA) threatens coastal ecosystems. To forecast the functioning of coastal seagrass ecosystems in acidified oceans, more knowledge on the long-term adaptive capacities of seagrass species and their epibionts is needed. Therefore we studied morphological characteristics of Posidonia oceanica and the structure of its epibiont communities at a Mediterranean volcanic CO2 vent off Panarea Island (Italy) and performed a laboratory experiment to test the effect of OA on P. oceanica photosynthesis and its potential buffering capacity. At the study site east of Basiluzzo Islet, venting of CO2 gas was controlled by tides, resulting in an average pH difference of 0.1 between the vent and reference site. P. oceanicashoot and leaf density was unaffected by these levels of OA, although shorter leaves at the vent site suggest increased susceptibility to erosion, potentially by herbivores. The community of sessile epibionts differed in composition and was characterized by a higher species richness at the vent site, though net epiphytic calcium carbonate concentration was similar. These findings suggest a higher ecosystem complexity at the vent site, which may have facilitated the higher diversity of copepods in the otherwise unaffected motile epibiont community. In the laboratory experiment, P. oceanica photosynthesis increased with decreasing pHT (7.6, 6.6, 5.5), which induced an elevated pH at the leaf surfaces of up to 0.5 units compared to the ambient seawater pHT of 6.6. This suggests a temporary pH buffering in the diffusive boundary layer of leaves, which could be favorable for epibiont organisms. The results of this multispecies study contribute to understanding community-level responses and underlying processes in long-term acidified conditions. Increased replication and monitoring of physico-chemical parameters on an annual scale are, however, recommended to assure that the biological responses observed during a short period reflect long-term dynamics of these parameters.

Continue reading ‘Response of Posidonia oceanica seagrass and its epibiont communities to ocean acidification’

Unexpected resilience of a seagrass system exposed to global stressors

Despite a growing interest in identifying tipping points in response to environmental change, our understanding of the ecological mechanisms underlying non-linear ecosystem dynamics is limited. Ecosystems governed by strong species interactions can provide important insight into how non-linear relationships between organisms and their environment propagate through ecosystems, and the potential for environmentally mediated species interactions to drive or protect against sudden ecosystem shifts. Here, we experimentally determine the functional relationships (i.e., the shapes of the relationships between predictor and response variables) of a seagrass assemblage with well-defined species interactions to ocean acidification (enrichment of CO2) in isolation and in combination with nutrient loading. We demonstrate that the effect of ocean acidification on grazer biomass (Phyllaplysia taylori and Idotea resecata) was quadratic, with the peak of grazer biomass at mid-pH levels. Algal grazing was negatively affected by nutrients, potentially due to low grazer affinity for macroalgae (Ulva intestinalis), as recruitment of both macroalgae and diatoms were favored in elevated nutrient conditions. This led to an exponential increase in macroalgal and epiphyte biomass with ocean acidification, regardless of nutrient concentration. When left unchecked algae can cause declines in seagrass productivity and persistence through shading and competition. Despite quadratic and exponential functional relationships to stressors that could cause a non-linear decrease in seagrass biomass, productivity of our model seagrass – the eelgrass (Zostera marina)- remained highly resilient to increasing acidification. These results suggest that important species interactions governing ecosystem dynamics may shift with environmental change, and ecosystem state may be decoupled from ecological responses at lower levels of organization.

Continue reading ‘Unexpected resilience of a seagrass system exposed to global stressors’


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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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