Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coralline Algae : From Species to Community Consequences Public Deposited

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  • Oceanic uptake of rising anthropogenic CO₂ emissions has caused the emergence of ocean acidification as a major threat to marine ecosystems worldwide. Along eastern boundary current systems, seawater is naturally acidified due to coastal upwelling of low pH seawater from depth. Compounded by ocean acidification, upwelling regions are expected to become increasingly corrosive to calcifying organisms, potentially forcing them beyond their physiological tolerance windows. In my dissertation, I focused on the impacts of ocean acidification on calcareous coralline algae in the California Current System. Using coralline algae in rocky intertidal habitats as model organisms, I extend the implications of ocean acidification from the organismal level to the broader community level. Global environmental change implies not only gradual changes in the mean values of environmental variables but also an increase in variability and the likelihood of rare, extreme events. In Chapter 2, I conducted a laboratory experiment to explore potential interactions between two different types of environmental stressors. Specifically, I tested the effects of elevated pCO₂, including variable pCO₂ treatments, and a severe desiccation event on the coralline species, Corallina vancouveriensis. I found that C. vancouveriensis growth was negatively impacted by both elevated pCO₂ and desiccation stress, although their combined effects were approximately additive rather than synergistic. Furthermore, while high pCO₂ at constant levels only caused small reductions in algal growth over a two-week period, these effects were exacerbated by pCO₂ variability. One criticism of laboratory experiments testing species responses to environmental change is that they isolate organisms under simplified conditions. The potential of overlooking important biotic or abiotic factors present in the natural environment limits the inferences that can be made from laboratory studies. In Chapter 3, I conducted a reciprocal removal experiment at two field sites and two wave exposures to investigate potential changes in the interactions between coralline and fleshy turf-forming algae since the 1980s. I used as a baseline the results from a similar study conducted nearly 30 years ago that failed to detect spatial competition between coralline and fleshy algae. Despite the progression of ocean acidification over the last three decades, my results indicated that the lack of competition between coralline and fleshy algae persists to this day, with results consistent across both sites and wave exposures. The findings in Chapter 3 refer to present-day interactions, but in the future, ocean acidification is expected to be detrimental to coralline algae while potentially benefitting fleshy algae. Both coralline and fleshy algae form turf habitats that shelter diverse epifaunal communities. Thus, changes in the algal composition of turf habitats may lead to broader changes encompassing epifaunal communities, depending on the degree of specialization displayed in epifaunal habitat associations. In Chapter 4, I compared the abundance, richness, and community composition of epifauna between coralline and fleshy turf habitats at four sites along the Oregon-California coast. I found that epifauna were more abundant in coralline turfs due to higher turf density. However, epifaunal richness and community composition were similar between turf types, indicating high levels of redundancy in habitat provision between coralline and fleshy algae. Since most species of epifauna tended to be turf generalists, they may be resistant to the potential indirect effects of ocean acidification involving declines in coralline turf habitat. My dissertation combined a variety of standard ecological methodologies to help translate ocean acidification impacts from the organismal level to the community level. Overall, while I found that elevated pCO₂ decreased coralline growth in the laboratory, evidence from the field suggested a capacity for communities to resist the effects of ocean acidification and remain resilient. In the natural environment, ocean acidification impacts may be moderated by multiple environmental variables working in different directions, the temporal dynamics of stressors allowing for periods of recovery, and species interactions having dampening effects. One way forward to unite theories of change with those of resistance is to identify ecosystem indicators and critical thresholds that may help provide a more comprehensive view of ecosystem functioning and stability in the face of global change.
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  • 2017-08-04 to 2018-02-13



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