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Ocean acidification could have broad effects on marine ecosystems
Date:12/17/2008

of the marine food web--build calcium carbonate shells to protect themselves from microscopic predators called ciliate protozoa. A disruption of the ability of phytoplankton to build their shells could have ripple effects throughout the marine food web, Potts said.

"It's going to change the dominant organism in the food chain, and there's a very real danger that it may short-circuit the food chains," he said. In other words, ciliate protozoa gorging on unprotected phytoplankton may flourish at the expense of other organisms higher up the food chain.

But calcification of shells is not the only biological process affected by acidification, Potts added. "All biochemical physiological reactions are potentially going to change," he said. Developing organisms are most likely to be affected, due to their low range of environmental tolerances, but it is unclear what the ecological ramifications will be.

Ocean acidification may not affect all parts of the oceans equally. Within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of shore, the pH of ocean water is more variable than in the rest of the ocean. Fresh water and wind from the land can carry chemicals that alter the pH of near-shore water, making it either more acidic or more alkaline. There may be organisms in this region that are already starting to adapt to changes in ocean acidity, Potts said.

"We should be thinking in terms of triage," he said. "We want to be predicting where are the organisms that are most likely to survive or survive the longest, and this is where we should be concentrating our conservation and management efforts, given finite resources."


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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-2495
University of California - Santa Cruz
Source:Eurekalert

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