functional group will be affected by ocean acidification. In general, higher trophic levels, including most finfish, will likely be sensitive to ocean acidification through changes in the quantity or composition of the food available, although there may be direct physiological effects on some fish species at high pCO2 (see Chapter 3). The difficulty in predicting ecosystem change is compounded by other simultaneous stressors occurring in the oceans now (e.g., pollution, overfishing, and nutrient eutrophication) and in association with climate change. For example, it is projected that surface waters will become warmer, the upper water column will become more stratified, and the supply of nutrients from deep waters and from the atmosphere will change as a result of climate change. Whether these changes, in combination with the effects of ocean acidification, will have synergistic, antagonistic, or additive effects is unknown, but multiple stressors are likely to affect marine ecosystems at multiple scales.

Several previous reports have identified marine ecosystems that are most likely to be at risk from ocean acidification (e.g., Raven et al., 2005; Fabry et al., 2008b). This chapter begins by describing what is known and not known about ecosystem effects of ocean acidification for five vulnerable ecosystems: tropical coral reef, open ocean plankton, coastal, deep sea, and high latitude ecosystems. This is not an exhaustive review of all possible ecological effects, but is instead an overview of the ecosystems that have been identified as most vulnerable to acidification. The chapter looks at examples of high-CO2 periods in the geologic past for possible information on the ecological response to current acidification. It also examines general principles regarding biodiversity, possible thresholds in ecological systems, and managing ecosystems for change.


Some of the most convincing evidence that ocean acidification will affect marine ecosystems comes from warm water coral reefs. Coral reef ecosystems are defined by the large, wave-resistant calcium carbonate structures, or reefs, that are built by reef calcifiers. The structures they build provide food and shelter for a wide variety of marine organisms (Figure 4.1). There are hundreds of reef-building species; the predominant calcifiers on coral reefs are zooxanthellate corals, which produce hard aragonite skeletons, and calcifying macroalgae,1 which produce high-Mg calcite and aragonite. These groups produce the bulk of the calcium carbonate that make up the reef structures, which in turn support the high biodiversity of coral reef ecosystems. Recent analyses illustrate that


1 There are two types of calcifying macroalgae that are important to reef formation in tropical coral reef ecosystems: crustose coralline red algae (coralline algae) from the family Corallinaceae and calcifying green algae (genus Halimeda)

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