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Biological consequences of weak acidification caused by elevated carbon dioxide in freshwater ecosystems

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Abstract

Weak acidification can occur in freshwater ecosystems when free carbon dioxide (CO2) levels increase, which can happen for a variety of reasons. To define the state of knowledge for how weak acidification influences freshwater biota and ecosystems, a review of the primary literature was conducted. Despite few empirical studies focused on weak acidification in the primary literature (~100 studies), some themes have emerged from our literature review. Most studies focused on physiological responses at the organismal level, and fish were the most studied taxa. Animals exhibited reduced individual growth rates, and, in contrast, primary producers demonstrated increased individual and population growth rates. In animals, mortality, sub-lethal injuries, and changes to behaviours were also observed. Negative consequences to reproduction in macrophytes were found. Few studies have focused on population, community, or ecosystem levels, though broad scale studies suggest that weak acidification can limit species community diversity, specifically in invertebrates and fish. Moving forward, researchers need to continue to advance our understanding of the consequences of weak acidification for freshwater biota. Furthermore, priority should be placed on research that can evaluate the potential for weak acidification in freshwater to lead to changes in ecological regimes or economical outcomes, such as fisheries collapses.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this project was provided by the United States Geological Survey, through funds provided by the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (G14AC00119). The project was also partly funded by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, also through funds provided by the USEPA’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for comments made on an earlier draft of this manuscript.

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Hasler, C.T., Jeffrey, J.D., Schneider, E.V.C. et al. Biological consequences of weak acidification caused by elevated carbon dioxide in freshwater ecosystems. Hydrobiologia 806, 1–12 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10750-017-3332-y

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