A study of marine life in the temperate coastal waters of the northeast Pacific Ocean shows a reversal of competitive dominance among species of algae, suggesting that increased ocean acidification caused by global climate change is altering biodiversity.
The study, published online January 15, 2014, in the journal Ecology Letters, examined competitive dynamics among crustose coralline algae, a group of species living in the waters around Tatoosh Island, Washington. These species of algae grow skeletons made of calcium carbonate, much like other shelled organisms such as mussels and oysters.
As the ocean absorbs more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the water becomes more acidic. Crustose coralline algae and shellfish have difficulty producing their skeletons and shells in such an environment, and can provide an early indicator of how increasing ocean acidification affects marine life.
"Coralline algae is one of the poster organisms for studying ocean acidification," said lead study author Sophie McCoy, a PhD candidate in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. "On one hand, they can grow faster because of increased carbon dioxide in the water, but on the other hand, ocean acidification makes it harder for them to deposit the skeleton. It's an important tradeoff."
Scientists have been studying Tatoosh Island, located off the northwestern tip of Washington state, for decades, compiling a rich historical record of ecological data. In this study, McCoy and Cathy Pfister, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, repeated experiments conducted in the 1980s by University of Washington biologist Robert Paine. McCoy transplanted four species of crustose coralline algae to test sites to study how today's ocean has changed how they compete with each other.
In the previous experiments, one species, Pseudolithophyllum muricatum, was clearly dominant, "winning" almost 100 percent of the time over the other three species. In the current set of experiments, P. muricatum won less than 25 percent of the time, and no species proved dominant. McCoy called this new competitive environment "rock, paper, scissors dynamics," in which no species has a clear advantage.
McCoy said that in the past, P. muricatum owed its dominance to being able to grow a much thicker skeleton than other species. Historical data show that in the 1980s it grew twice as thick as its competitors, but now P. muricatum no longer enjoys that advantage. Measurements from another recent study by McCoy in the Journal of Phycology show that it now grows half as thick on average, or roughly equal to the other species.
This decrease in thickness and loss of competitive advantage is most likely due to lower pH levels recorded over the last 12 years in the waters around Tatoosh, a measure of ocean acidification.
"The total energy available to these organisms is the same, but now they have to use some of it dealing with this new stress," she said. "Some species are more affected than others. So the ones that need to make more calcium carbonate tissue, like P. muricatum, are under more stress than the ones that don't."
McCoy said it's crucial to continue studying the effects of ocean acidification in a natural context like Tatoosh Island instead of in the laboratory.
"This study shows different dynamics than what other people have found in lab studies," she said. "Field sites like Tatoosh are unique because we have a lot of historical ecological data going back decades. I think it's really important to use that in nature to understand what's going on."
The National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation, the Phycological Society of America, the Geological Society of America and the University of Chicago provided funding for this study.
About the University of Chicago Medicine
The University of Chicago Medicine and its Comer Children's Hospital rank among the best in the country, most notably for cancer treatment, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of the nation's hospitals. The University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine has been named one of the Top 10 medical schools in the nation, by U.S. News' "Best Graduate Schools" survey. University of Chicago physician-scientists performed the first organ transplant and the first bone marrow transplant in animal models, the first successful living-donor liver transplant, the first hormone therapy for cancer and the first successful application of cancer chemotherapy. Its researchers discovered REM sleep and were the first to describe several of the sleep stages. Twelve of the Nobel Prize winners have been affiliated with the University of Chicago Medicine.
Visit our research blog at sciencelife.uchospitals.edu and our newsroom at uchospitals.edu/news.Twitter @UChicagoMed
Matt Wood | EurekAlert!
Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.06.2017 | Information Technology