Rising levels of ocean acidification contribute to smaller, misshapen and weaker skeletons in juvenile coral according to a team of scientists from The University of Western Australia – predicting devastating wide spread effects in coral systems by 2100.
The UWA research team created ocean conditions based on “business-as-usual” emission scenario testing both increasing water temperature and CO2 levels.
In early development, small coral 1mm in diameter are more vulnerable to mechanical damage, overgrowth and predation. The vulnerability of these structures is increased by the added difficulty to calcify under rising CO2 levels.
With the use of a 3D-Xray microscopy and scanning election microscopy, the team examined the newly settled coral recruits and observed visual and quantitative differences in skeletal structure.
The damage high CO2 levels caused in coral skeletal structures include disruptions of symmetry through misshapen, overgrown walls and deep pitting contributing to a corroded-looking skeletal surface. Severe deformities included gaps and fractures as well as large areas of the skeleton entirely absent.
Adult coral calcification have already declined by 14% to 30% world wide in recent years according to multiple studies.
Results of the UWA study report that no fractures were observed in the corals grown in low CO2 environments.
The paper Ocean acidification causes structural deformities in juvenile coral skeletons by Taryn Foster, James Falter, Malcolm McCulloch and Peta Clode is published in the journal Science Advances.
The project was funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.