Ocean acidification poses a threat to marine life, habitats

According to research published in Nature Climate Change, the acidification of the world’s oceans could result in a cascading loss of biodiversity in some marine habitats.

Up until now most research in this area focused on the impact of ocean acidification on individual species.  The new research focuses on how acidification will affect living habitats to other species such as corals, seagrasses, and kelp forests.

“Not too surprisingly, species diversity in calcium carbonate-based habitats like coral reefs and mussel beds were projected to decline with increased ocean acidification,” said UBC zoologist and biodiversity researcher Jennifer Sunday, who led the study. Species using calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons, like mussels and corals, are expected to be susceptible to acidification.


A new UBC research focuses on how acidification will affect living habitats to other species such as corals, seagrasses, and kelp forests. (Photo courtesy of: www.freeimages.com)

“The more complex responses are those of seagrass beds that are vital to many fisheries species. These showed the potential to increase the number of species they can support, but the real-world evidence so far shows that they’re not reaching this potential “. This underscores the need for more research to evaluate how climate change affects individual species, and more importantly their supportive habitat.

The researchers gathered data and observations from 10 field studies, measuring impacts of underwater volcanic vents. These vents release carbon dioxide and are analogous to the conditions of future ocean acidification, on the density of habitat forming species. The data were combined with 15 other studies analyzing how changes usually impact local species to make their projections.

According to marine ecologist Christopher Harley, senior author on the paper, it has been known for a long time that with climate change there will be some losers and some winners.

Harley further added, his team won’t have time to measure the effects of climate change on each individual species, but said this approach will allow them to make reasonable predictions. He also said, they now have a much clearer vision as to how some species can bring down biodiversity with them while other species might be able to help their habitat mediate a response to acidification.

“For example, in the Pacific Northwest, the number of medium to large-sized edible saltwater mussels is likely to decrease as the chemistry of our oceans changes, and this is bad news for the hundreds of species that use them for habitat,” added Harley.