An Experimental Comparison of the Effects of Zostera marina and Zostera japonica on the Diurnal Variability of the Carbonate System in the Context of a Pacific Northwest Estuary

Chair: Andrew McMinn

Cale A. Miller (1)*, Brooke A. Love (1), Sylvia Yang (2)

1 Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA, 98225, USA
Shannon Point Marine Center, Western Washington University, Anacortes, WA, 98221, USA

Atmospheric CO2 emissions are being absorbed at an unprecedented rate by the global and coastal oceans, shifting the baseline pCO2, and inducing anthropogenic ocean acidification (OA). Recent studies have highlighted the potential benefits of near-shore vegetated habitats, such as seagrass beds as carbon sinks, potentially mitigating the effects of OA for vulnerable calcifying organisms. Seagrasses are capable of raising seawater pH and CaCO3 saturation state during times of high photosynthetic activity; however, the converse occurs during periods of dark respiration, resulting in a cyclical pattern of high and low pH and saturation state. A better understanding of diurnal seagrass induced carbonate system variability is needed to determine whether seagrass beds act as refugia from OA, and if individual species differentially affect the carbonate system.

We conducted experiments to compare the effects of the native Zostera marina and non-native Zostera japonica on the carbonate system. Leaf clippings were incubated at five different light intensities (including dark) and pCO2 levels, representing the range of light and pCO2 in a given day. Induced changes in dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) via photosynthesis and respiration were measured as well as pH and alkalinity. As irradiance and concentration of bio-available inorganic carbon are the two main drivers of photosynthetic activity, our measurements of the short-term response of photosynthesis to a spectrum of pCO2 and irradiance intensity can predict the diurnal fluctuation of pH and DIC for both species. This lab study provides a mechanistic background for building complex models based on field monitoring of carbonate chemistry in seagrass communities by comparing and integrating our results with in situ measurements. Interpretation of our findings will be placed in the context of short-term seagrass response to the spatiotemporal variability of pCO2 with respect to the progression of ocean acidification.