Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Decreased abundance of crustose coralline algae due to ocean acidification


Owing to anthropogenic emissions, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide could almost double between 2006 and 2100 according to business-as-usual carbon dioxide emission scenarios1. Because the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere2,3,4, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will lead to increasing dissolved inorganic carbon and carbon dioxide in surface ocean waters, and hence acidification and lower carbonate saturation states2,5. As a consequence, it has been suggested that marine calcifying organisms, for example corals, coralline algae, molluscs and foraminifera, will have difficulties producing their skeletons and shells at current rates6,7, with potentially severe implications for marine ecosystems, including coral reefs6,8,9,10,11. Here we report a seven-week experiment exploring the effects of ocean acidification on crustose coralline algae, a cosmopolitan group of calcifying algae that is ecologically important in most shallow-water habitats12,13,14. Six outdoor mesocosms were continuously supplied with sea water from the adjacent reef and manipulated to simulate conditions of either ambient or elevated seawater carbon dioxide concentrations. The recruitment rate and growth of crustose coralline algae were severely inhibited in the elevated carbon dioxide mesocosms. Our findings suggest that ocean acidification due to human activities could cause significant change to benthic community structure in shallow-warm-water carbonate ecosystems.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Seawater carbonate chemistry.
Figure 2: Encrusting algal communities on experimental cylinders.


  1. IPCC. Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2001).

  2. Broecker, W. S., Takahashi, T., Simpson, H. J. & Peng, T. H. Fate of fossil fuel carbon dioxide and the global carbon budget. Science 206, 409–418 (1979).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Quay, P. Ups and downs of CO2 uptake. Science 298, 2344 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Sabine, C. L. et al. The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2 . Science 305, 367–371 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Feely, R. A. et al. Impact of anthropogenic CO2 on the CaCO3 system in the oceans. Science 305, 362–366 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Gattuso, J. P., Allemand, D. & Frankignoulle, M. Photosynthesis and calcification at cellular, organismal and community levels in coral reefs: A review on interactions and control by carbonate chemistry. Am. Zool. 39, 160–183 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Orr, J. C. et al. Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact on calcifying organisms. Nature 437, 681–686 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Kleypas, J. A. et al. Geochemical consequences of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on coral reefs. Science 284, 118–120 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Leclercq, N., Gattuso, J. P. & Jaubert, J. CO2 partial pressure controls the calcification rate of a coral community. Global Change Biol. 6, 329–334 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Langdon, C. & Atkinson, M. J. Effect of elevated pCO2 on photosynthesis and calcification of corals and interactions with seasonal change in temperature/irradiance and nutrient enrichment. J. Geophys. Res. 110, 1–16 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Andersson, A. J., Mackenzie, F. T. & Lerman, A. Coastal ocean and carbonate systems in the high CO2 world of the anthropocene. Am. J. Sci. 305, 875–918 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Chave, K. E. Factors influencing the mineralogy of carbonate sediments. Limnol. Oceanogr. 7, 218–223 (1962).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Adey, W. H. & Macintyre, I. G. Crustose coralline algae: A re-evaluation in the geological sciences. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 84, 883–904 (1973).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Steneck, R. S. The ecology of coralline algal crusts: Convergent patterns and adaptive strategies. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 17, 273–303 (1986).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Littler, M. M., Littler, D. S., Blair, S. M. & Norris, J. N. Deepest known plant life discovered on an uncharted seamount. Science 227, 57–59 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Adey, W. H. Coral reefs: Algal structured and mediated ecosystems in shallow, turbulent, alkaline waters. J. Phycol. 34, 393–406 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Morse, D. E., Hooker, N., Morse, A. N. C. & Jensen, R. A. Control of larval metamorphosis and recruitment in sympatric agariciid corals. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 116, 193–217 (1988).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Heyward, A. J. & Negri, A. P. Natural inducers for coral larval metamorphosis. Coral Reefs 18, 273–279 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Marubini, F., Ferrier-Pages, C. & Cuif, J. P. Suppression of skeletal growth in scleractinian corals by decreasing ambient carbonate-ion concentration: A cross-family comparison. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 270, 179–184 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Mackenzie, F. T. & Agegian, C. R. in Origin, Evolution, and Modern Aspects of Biomineralization in Plants and Animals (ed. Crick, R. E.) 11–27 (Plenum, New York, 1989).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Gao, K. et al. Calcification in the articulated coralline alga Corallina pilulifera, with special reference to the effect of elevated CO2 concentration. Mar. Biol. 117, 129–132 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Gattuso, J. P., Frankignoulle, M., Bourge, I., Romaine, S. & Buddemeier, R. W. Effect of calcium carbonate saturation of seawater on coral calcification. Global Planet. Change 18, 37–46 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Ohde, S. & Van Woesik, R. Carbon dioxide flux and metabolic processes of a coral reef, Okinawa. Bull. Mar. Sci. 65, 559–576 (1999).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Cohen, A. L. & McConnaughey, T. A. in Biomineralization, Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry Vol. 54 (eds Dove, P. M., De Yoreo, J. J. & Weiner, S.) 151–187 (Mineralogical Society of America, 2003).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Agegian, C. R. The Biogeochemical Ecology of Porolithon Gardineri (Foslie). Dissertation, Univ. Hawaii (1985).

  26. Mackenzie, F. T. et al. Magnesian calcites: Low-temperature occurrence, solubility and solid-solution behavior. Rev. Mineral. Geochem. 11, 97–144 (1983).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Bischoff, W. D., Mackenzie, F. T. & Bishop, F. C. Stabilities of synthetic magnesian calcites in aqueous solution: Comparison with biogenic materials. Geochim. Cosmochem. Acta 51, 1413–1423 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Morse, J. W., Andersson, A. J. & Mackenzie, F. T. Initial responses of carbonate-rich shelf sediments to rising atmospheric pCO2 and “ocean acidification”: Role of high Mg-calcites. Geochim. Cosmochem. Acta 70, 5814–5830 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. McCook, L. J. Macroalgae nutrients and phase shifts on coral reefs: Scientific issues and management consequences for the Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 18, 357–367 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Fagan, K. E. & Mackenzie, F. T. Air–sea CO2 exchange in a subtropical estuarine-coral reef system, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. Mar. Chem. 106, 174–191 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


Support for I.B.K.’s efforts on the project was provided by the USGS Terrestrial, Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems program and the USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program. A.J.A. and F.T.M. were funded by NSF. The contributions of P.L.J. and K.S.R. were supported by the USGS, EPA Star and the NOAA National Ocean Service. We thank R. Solomon, E. DeCarlo, C. Sabine and R. Feely for permission to include the CRIMP/CO2-NOAA PMEL buoy pCO2 data in Fig. 1. Any use of trade names herein was only for descriptive purposes and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



I.B.K., A.J.A., P.L.J. and F.T.M. contributed equally to the design and I.B.K., A.J.A. and K.S.R. contributed equally to carrying out the experiments. All authors contributed to data synthesis and writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Ilsa B. Kuffner or Andreas J. Andersson.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary information (PDF 155 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Kuffner, I., Andersson, A., Jokiel, P. et al. Decreased abundance of crustose coralline algae due to ocean acidification. Nature Geosci 1, 114–117 (2008).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing