Acidification of the world's oceans could lead to a cascading loss of biodiversity in some marine habitats, according to research by biodiversity researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and colleagues in the U.S., Europe, Australia, Japan and China.
While most research in the field focuses on the impact of ocean acidification on individual species, this study predicts how acidification will affect living habitats 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.
Animals that use calcium carbonate to build their shells and skeletons (like mussels and corals) are expected to be particularly affected by acidification.
"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 highlights a need to focus not only on individual species, but on how the supportive habitat that sets nature's stage responds and interacts to climate change."
The researchers combined data and observations from 10 field studies that measured the impact of underwater volcanic vents on the density of habitat-forming species. They combined that data with 15 studies looking at how changes in habitat typically impact local species to make their predictions.
UBC marine ecologist and senior author Christopher Harley said, “We've known for a while that there will be big losers and some winners with climate change. […] Now we have a much clearer picture of how some losers can drag biodiversity down with them, and how some 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.