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High CO₂ enhances the competitive strength of seaweeds over corals

Diaz-Pulido, Guillermo, Gouezo, Marine, Tilbrook, Bronte, Dove, Sophie, Anthony, Kenneth R.N.
Ecology letters 2011 v.14 no.2 pp. 156-162
Acropora, acidification, corals, eutrophication, herbivores, macroalgae, mortality, overfishing, reefs
Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 156-162 ABSTRACT: Space competition between corals and seaweeds is an important ecological process underlying coral-reef dynamics. Processes promoting seaweed growth and survival, such as herbivore overfishing and eutrophication, can lead to local reef degradation. Here, we present the case that increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO₂ may be an additional process driving a shift from corals to seaweeds on reefs. Coral (Acropora intermedia) mortality in contact with a common coral-reef seaweed (Lobophora papenfussii) increased two- to threefold between background CO₂ (400 ppm) and highest level projected for late 21st century (1140 ppm). The strong interaction between CO₂ and seaweeds on coral mortality was most likely attributable to a chemical competitive mechanism, as control corals with algal mimics showed no mortality. Our results suggest that coral (Acropora) reefs may become increasingly susceptible to seaweed proliferation under ocean acidification, and processes regulating algal abundance (e.g. herbivory) will play an increasingly important role in maintaining coral abundance.