Letter | Published:

Carbon dioxide addition to coral reef waters suppresses net community calcification

Nature volume 555, pages 516519 (22 March 2018) | Download Citation


Coral reefs feed millions of people worldwide, provide coastal protection and generate billions of dollars annually in tourism revenue1. The underlying architecture of a reef is a biogenic carbonate structure that accretes over many years of active biomineralization by calcifying organisms, including corals and algae2. Ocean acidification poses a chronic threat to coral reefs by reducing the saturation state of the aragonite mineral of which coral skeletons are primarily composed, and lowering the concentration of carbonate ions required to maintain the carbonate reef. Reduced calcification, coupled with increased bioerosion and dissolution3, may drive reefs into a state of net loss this century4. Our ability to predict changes in ecosystem function and associated services ultimately hinges on our understanding of community- and ecosystem-scale responses. Past research has primarily focused on the responses of individual species rather than evaluating more complex, community-level responses. Here we use an in situ carbon dioxide enrichment experiment to quantify the net calcification response of a coral reef flat to acidification. We present an estimate of community-scale calcification sensitivity to ocean acidification that is, to our knowledge, the first to be based on a controlled experiment in the natural environment. This estimate provides evidence that near-future reductions in the aragonite saturation state will compromise the ecosystem function of coral reefs.

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We thank R. Dunbar for the use of his laboratory and D. Mucciarone for laboratory assistance; the Australian Institute of Marine Science for scientific and technical support; and the following people for their support in the field and/or laboratory: M. Byrne, T. Hill, L. Caldeira, R. Johnson, D. Ross and the staff of the One Tree Island Research Station. Expedition and staff support was provided by the Carnegie Institution for Science. Additional support for staff, but not expedition expenses, was provided by the California Academy of Sciences and the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research. This work was permitted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority under permit G14/36863.1.

Author information


  1. Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Rebecca Albright
    • , Yuichiro Takeshita
    • , David A. Koweek
    • , Yana Nebuchina
    •  & Ken Caldeira
  2. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California 94118, USA

    • Rebecca Albright
  3. Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Moss Landing, California 95039, USA

    • Yuichiro Takeshita
  4. UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab, Bodega Bay, California 94923, USA

    • Aaron Ninokawa
    •  & Jordan Young
  5. School of Medical Sciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

    • Kennedy Wolfe
  6. The Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences, The H. Steinitz Marine Biology Laboratory, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Coral Beach, Eilat, 8810300, Israel

    • Tanya Rivlin
  7. The Fredy and Nadine Herrman Institute of Earth Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Edmond J. Safra Campus, Jerusalem, 9190401, Israel

    • Tanya Rivlin


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R.A., Y.T. and K.C. conceived and designed the project, conducted pilot studies, and collected preliminary data. R.A., Y.T., D.A.K., A.N., K.W., T.R., Y.N., J.Y. and K.C. performed the experiments. R.A. and K.C. performed computational analyses. R.A. wrote the manuscript with input from Y.T., D.A.K. and K.C. All co-authors reviewed and approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rebecca Albright.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks H. Kayanne, J. Lough and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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    Raw data for chemical and physical parameters across all days and station locations (measured and calculated). Details regarding measurements and associated errors are provided in the Methods.

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