How calorie-rich food could help marine calcifiers in a CO2-rich future
Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
The Royal Society
School of Engineering
Increasing carbon emissions not only enrich oceans with CO2 but also make them more acidic. This acidifying process has caused considerable concern because laboratory studies show that ocean acidification impairs calcification (or shell building) and survival of calcifiers by the end of this century. Whether this impairment in shell building also occurs in natural communities remains largely unexplored, but requires re-examination because of the recent counterintuitive finding that populations of calcifiers can be boosted by CO2 enrichment. Using natural CO2 vents, we found that ocean acidification resulted in the production of thicker, more crystalline and more mechanically resilient shells of a herbivorous gastropod, which was associated with the consumption of energy-enriched food (i.e. algae). This discovery suggests that boosted energy transfer may not only compensate for the energetic burden of ocean acidification but also enable calcifiers to build energetically costly shells that are robust to acidified conditions. We unlock a possible mechanism underlying the persistence of calcifiers in acidifying oceans.