Decreased abundance of crustose coralline algae due to ocean acidification

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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.

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


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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.

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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.

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

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