Refuges from ocean acidification: determining tolerances of coralline algae to naturally low-pH water

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Helen Cooper, University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, United States, Adina Paytan, UCSC-Inst Marine Sciences, Santa Cruz, CA, United States and Donald Cameron Potts, University of California-Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, United States
Anthropogenic carbon dioxide dissolving into the world’s oceans is causing a profound and rapid shift in ocean chemistry referred to as ocean acidification (OA) that causes carbonate structures to dissolve more readily in seawater with negative effects for organisms relying on calcified skeletons or shells (e.g. corals, mollusks, coralline algae). Crustose coralline algae (CCA) are ubiquitous and essential on coral reefs, providing both ecological and structural benefits to the reefs. However, CCA are adversely affected by low pH water, with severe reductions in recruitment, survival, growth and productivity.

The ability of different species of CCA to adapt to low pH waters was tested using a system of natural submarine springs (called “ojos”) near Puerto Morelos on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. These ojos continuously discharge groundwater that is close to seawater salinity but more acidic (pH 6.70-7.30) and under saturated (0.3 Ω to 0.97 Ω) than the ambient seawater (pH 8.03, 3.60 Ω ). Both corals and coralline algae grow in the water from these springs, suggesting that some calcifying species differ in their tolerance to low pH waters. Corallines were sampled along a pH gradient at five springs in December 2013 using underwater transects. Differences in percent cover, species abundance and diversity of CCA by pH levels will be discussed.

This work utilizes a unique natural laboratory for studying properties of calcifying biota along pH gradients and provides insight into the ability of CCA to tolerate or adapt to future conditions.