Biological mechanisms supporting adaptation to ocean acidification in coastal ecosystems

Posted on OA: 8 Aug 2014

The direct influence of anthropogenic CO2 might play a limited role in pH regulation in coastal ecosystems as pH regulation in these areas can be complex. They experience large variability across a broad range of spatial and temporal scales, with complex external and internal drivers. Organisms influence pH at a patch scale, where community metabolic effects and hydrodynamic processes interact to produce broad ranges in pH, (∼0.3 to 0.5 pH units) over daily cycles and spatial scales (mm to m) particularly in shallow vegetated habitats and coral reefs where both respiration and photosynthetic activity are intense. Biological interactions at the ecosystem scale, linked to patchiness in habitat landscapes and seasonal changes in metabolic processes and temperature lead to changes of about 0.3 to 0.5 pH units throughout a year. Furthermore, on the scale of individual organisms, small-scale processes including changes at the Diffusive Boundary Layer (DBL), interactions with symbionts, and changes to the specific calcification environment, induce additional changes in excess of 0.5 pH units.

In these highly variable pH environments calcifying organisms have developed the capacity to alter the pH of their calcifying environment, or specifically within critical tissues where calcification occurs, thus achieving a homeostasis. This capacity to control the conditions for calcification at the organism scale may therefore buffer the full impacts of ocean acidification on an organism scale, although this might be at a cost to the individual. Furthermore, in some areas, calcifiers may potentially benefit from changes to ambient seawater pH, where photosynthetic organisms drawdown CO2.


Hendriks I. E., Duarte C. M., Olsen Y. S., Steckbauer A., Ramajo L., Moore T. S., Trotter J. A. & McCulloch M., in press. Biological mechanisms supporting adaptation to ocean acidification in coastal ecosystems. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science.Article (subscription required).