Ocean acidification and carbon limitation affect photosynthetic capacity of the seagrass (Amphibolis antarctica) and its calcifying epiphytes
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Amphibolis antarctica seagrass meadows, and their associated calcifying epiphytes, are abundant on Australia’s west coast, but have declined in recent years due to anthropogenic factors such as marine heatwaves, damaging fishing practices and increased turbidity resulting from eutrophication which causes light limitation. Burning fossil fuels has increased the flux of CO2 in to the ocean, lowering surface seawater pH, and making more carbon available for photosynthetic life. There are benefits of increasing CO2 for those seagrasses that are carbon limited, as this alleviates their energetic use of carbon concentrating mechanisms (CCM’S) which are less efficient, and more energy costly than passive diffusion of CO2 across cell walls. This study used pulse amplitude modulation fluorometry to quantify relative electron transport rates (rETR) at a range of pH levels both above and below current ocean pH of 8.1, and found that A. antarctica has significantly decreased rETR at pH treatments of 7.81 and 7.61. Calcifying epiphytes on A. antarctica also had a significant drop in rETR at the lower pH treatments. There was also significantly lowered rETR at higher pH treatments, likely the result of carbon limitation. These results from the lower pH tests may have profound implications for A. antarctica meadows under ocean acidification. A decline in these meadows would cause the loss of ecosystem services provided by them, such as carbon storage and sequestration, commercial fisheries and a decline the abundance of biodiversity that they support.