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Keywords:

  • carbon dioxide;
  • climate change;
  • CO2;
  • marine invertebrates;
  • pH;
  • recruitment;
  • settlement

Abstract

Ocean acidification (OA) refers to the increase in acidity (decrease in pH) of the ocean's surface waters resulting from oceanic uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Mounting experimental evidence suggests that OA threatens numerous marine organisms, including reef-building corals. Coral recruitment is critical to the persistence and resilience of coral reefs and is regulated by several early life processes, including: larval availability (gamete production, fertilization, etc.), larval settlement, postsettlement growth, and survival. Environmental factors that disrupt these early life processes can result in compromised or failed recruitment and profoundly affect future population dynamics. To evaluate the effects of OA on the sexual recruitment of corals, we tested larval metabolism, larval settlement, and postsettlement growth of the common Caribbean coral Porites astreoides at three pCO2 levels: ambient seawater (380 μatm) and two pCO2 scenarios that are projected to occur by the middle (560 μatm) and end (800 μatm) of the century. Our results show that larval metabolism is depressed by 27% and 63% at 560 and 800 μatm, respectively, compared with controls. Settlement was reduced by 42–45% at 560 μatm and 55–60% at 800 μatm, relative to controls. Results indicate that OA primarily affects settlement via indirect pathways, whereby acidified seawater alters the substrate community composition, limiting the availability of settlement cues. Postsettlement growth decreased by 16% and 35% at 560 and 800 μatm, respectively, relative to controls. This study demonstrates that OA has the potential to negatively impact multiple early life history processes of P. astreoides and may contribute to substantial declines in sexual recruitment that are felt at the community and/or ecosystem scale.