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Intrageneric variation in antipredator responses of coral reef fishes affected by ocean acidification: implications for climate change projections on marine communities


Present address: Maud C. O. Ferrari, Department of Biomedical Sciences, WCVM, University of Saskatchewan, 52 Campus Drive, Saskatoon, Canada SK S7N 5B4, tel. +306 966 4317, fax +306 966 7376, e-mail:


Our planet is experiencing an increase in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) unprecedented in the past 800 000 years. About 30% of excess atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, thus increasing the concentration of carbonic acid and reducing the ocean's pH. Species able to survive the physiological stress imposed by ocean acidification may still suffer strong indirect negative consequences. Comparing the tolerance of different species to dissolved CO2 is a necessary first step towards predicting the ecological impacts of rising CO2 levels on marine communities. While it is intuitive that not all aquatic species will be affected the same way by CO2, one could predict that closely related species, sharing similar life histories and ecology, may show similar tolerance levels to CO2. Our ability to create functional groups of species according to their CO2 tolerance may be crucial in our ability to predict community change in the future. Here, we tested the effects of CO2 exposure on the antipredator responses of four damselfish species (Pomacentrus chrysurus, Pomacentrus moluccensis, Pomacentrus amboinensis and Pomacentrus nagasakiensis). Although being sympatric and sharing the same ecology and life history, the four congeneric species showed striking and unexpected variation in CO2 tolerance, with CO2-induced loss of response to predation risk ranging from 30% to 95%. Using P. chrysurus as a model species, we further tested if these behavioural differences translated into differential ability to survive predators under natural conditions. Our results indicate that P. chrysurus larvae raised under CO2 levels predicted by 2070 and 2100 showed decreased antipredator responses to risk, leading to a five- to sevenfold increase in predation-related mortality in the first few hours of settlement. Examining ocean acidification, along with other environmental variables, will be a critical step in further evaluating ecological responses to predicted climatic change.