Ocean acidification weakens the structural integrity of coralline algae



The uptake of anthropogenic emission of carbon dioxide is resulting in a lowering of the carbonate saturation state and a drop in ocean pH. Understanding how marine calcifying organisms such as coralline algae may acclimatize to ocean acidification is important to understand their survival over the coming century. We present the first long-term perturbation experiment on the cold-water coralline algae, which are important marine calcifiers in the benthic ecosystems particularly at the higher latitudes. Lithothamnion glaciale, after three months incubation, continued to calcify even in undersaturated conditions with a significant trend towards lower growth rates with increasing pCO2. However, the major changes in the ultra-structure occur by 589 μatm (i.e. in saturated waters). Finite element models of the algae grown at these heightened levels show an increase in the total strain energy of nearly an order of magnitude and an uneven distribution of the stress inside the skeleton when subjected to similar loads as algae grown at ambient levels. This weakening of the structure is likely to reduce the ability of the alga to resist boring by predators and wave energy with severe consequences to the benthic community structure in the immediate future (50 years).