Framework of barrier reefs threatened by ocean acidification

To date, studies of ocean acidification (OA) on coral reefs have focused on organisms rather than communities, and the few community effects that have been addressed have focused on shallow back reef habitats. The effects of OA on outer barrier reefs, which are the most striking of coral reef habitats and are functionally and physically different from back reefs, are unknown. Using 5-m long outdoor flumes to create treatment conditions, we constructed coral reef communities comprised of calcified algae, corals, and reef pavement that were assembled to match the community structure at 17 m depth on the outer barrier reef of Moorea, French Polynesia. Communities were maintained under ambient and 1200 ?atm pCO2 for 7 weeks, and net calcification rates were measured at different flow speeds. Community net calcification was significantly affected by OA, especially at night when net calcification was depressed ~78% compared to ambient pCO2. Flow speed (2-14 cm s?1) enhanced net calcification only at night under elevated pCO2. Reef pavement also was affected by OA, with dissolution ~86% higher under elevated pCO2 compared to ambient pCO2. These results suggest that net accretion of outer barrier reef communities will decline under OA conditions predicted within the next 100 years, largely because of increased dissolution of reef pavement. Such extensive dissolution poses a threat to the carbonate foundation of barrier reef communities.