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Could ocean acidification influence epiphytism? A comparison of carbon-use strategies between Fucus vesiculosus and its epiphytes in the Baltic Sea


Reduced seawater pH due to elevated carbon dioxide (CO2), a process known as ocean acidification (OA), is a globally significant environmental issue. OA is predicted to influence a range of ecosystem processes, but little is known about how changing seawater carbon chemistry could influence the extent and impacts of epiphytism. In the brackish Baltic Sea, increased epiphytism is associated with coastal eutrophication and the potential for OA to interact with this relationship remains unclear. This study focuses on slow-growing perennial algae Fucus vesiculosus—which is one of the most important habitat-forming species in the Baltic Sea—and two of its most common and abundant filamentous epiphytes Ceramium tenuicorne and Pylaiella littoralis. Material for this study was collected from Estonian coastal waters. The aim of the research was to determine which carbon acquisition strategies these species possess, which could indicate how they respond to predicted changes in seawater chemistry due to elevated CO2. Carbon-use strategies in macroalgae were determined by analyzing natural carbon isotope signatures (δ13C), pH drift experiments, and photosynthesis vs. dissolved inorganic carbon (P vs. DIC) curves. Our results showed that although F. vesiculosus and its filamentous epiphytes all possess a carbon concentrating mechanism (CCM), the potential species-specific variation in the CCMs operation will favor C. tenuicorne over F. vesiculosus and P. littoralis in a future high CO2 world.

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The study was carried out partially in a training workshop: Diversity of carbon use strategies in a different macrophyte communities in the NE Baltic Sea, in July 2018 at Kõiguste field station of the Estonian Marine Institute, Saaremaa Island. We would like to thank all the participants that contributed and also the University of Tartu, Department of Geology, for the help in determining the natural carbon isotope values.

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Correspondence to Gerli Albert.

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Albert, G., Hepburn, C.D., Pajusalu, L. et al. Could ocean acidification influence epiphytism? A comparison of carbon-use strategies between Fucus vesiculosus and its epiphytes in the Baltic Sea. J Appl Phycol (2019).

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  • Brackish water
  • Carbon physiology
  • Ceramium tenuicorne
  • Increasing CO2
  • Macroalgae
  • Pylaiella littoralis