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Cascading Effects of Ocean Acidification in a Rocky Subtidal Community

Abstract : Temperate marine rocky habitats may be alternatively characterized by well vegetated macroalgal assemblages or barren grounds, as a consequence of direct and indirect human impacts (e.g. overfishing) and grazing pressure by herbivorous organisms. In future scenarios of ocean acidification, calcifying organisms are expected to be less competitive: among these two key elements of the rocky subtidal food web, coralline algae and sea urchins. In order to highlight how the effects of increased pCO 2 on individual calcifying species will be exacerbated by interactions with other trophic levels, we performed an experiment simultaneously testing ocean acidification effects on primary producers (calcifying and non-calcifying algae) and their grazers (sea urchins). Artificial communities, composed by juveniles of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus and calcifying (Corallina elongata) and non-calcifying (Cystoseira amentacea var stricta, Dictyota dichotoma) macroalgae, were subjected to pCO 2 levels of 390, 550, 750 and 1000 matm in the laboratory. Our study highlighted a direct pCO 2 effect on coralline algae and on sea urchin defense from predation (test robustness). There was no direct effect on the non-calcifying macroalgae. More interestingly, we highlighted diet-mediated effects on test robustness and on the Aristotle's lantern size. In a future scenario of ocean acidification a decrease of sea urchins' density is expected, due to lower defense from predation, as a direct consequence of pH decrease, and to a reduced availability of calcifying macroalgae, important component of urchins' diet. The effects of ocean acidification may therefore be contrasting on well vegetated macroalgal assemblages and barren grounds: in the absence of other human impacts, a decrease of biodiversity can be predicted in vegetated macroalgal assemblages, whereas a lower density of sea urchin could help the recovery of shallow subtidal rocky areas affected by overfishing from barren grounds to assemblages dominated by fleshy macroalgae.
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Valentina Asnaghi, Mariachiara Chiantore, Luisa Mangialajo, Frédéric Gazeau, Patrice Francour, et al.. Cascading Effects of Ocean Acidification in a Rocky Subtidal Community. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2013, 8 (4), pp.e61978. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0061978⟩. ⟨hal-01535594⟩

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