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The effect of ocean acidification on the functioning of coastal marine benthos

Parent project: Sub-seabed CO2 Storage: Impact on Marine Ecosystems, more

Institute  Top 
  • Universiteit Gent; Faculteit Wetenschappen; Vakgroep Biologie; Onderzoeksgroep Mariene Biologie (MARBIOL), more

Human activities resulted in the increased emission of CO2 to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. This resulted in global warming on the one hand, and in an increased uptake of CO2 by the world’s oceans. While this oceanic uptake slowed down global warming, it gave rise to “the other climate problem”, ocean acidification. Ocean acidification (a decrease in pH of marine waters) is known to affect a large variety of calcifying organism, with great impacts on marine food webs and in the end on marine food provision for society. Most of this research has been conducted in the pelagic realm, as it was expected that ocean acidification would not cause dramatic problems in the seafloor. However, recent research indicated that some macrobenthic organisms were negatively affected by ocean acidification as well. Up to know, there is no information about the effect of ocean acidification on smaller benthic organisms. This is surprising, as these animals are living in between the sand grains, where steep gradients in pH are apparent. These gradients, appearing within the upper 2 cm of the sediment of coastal seas, is even larger than the pH decrease predicted by IPCC by 2100. As such, these smaller benthic organisms (meiobenthos) must be well adapted to varying pH conditions. Within this thesis research, the student will be involved in pioneering research, investigating the effect of ocean acidification on the functioning of meiobenthic organisms. We will use respiration as a proxy for organism overall functioning (without respiring, an animal dies). A similar approach very recently resulted in a major step forward in the understanding of the adaptation of meiobenthic organisms to survival in sub-oxic deep sediment layers. Using the acidification facility of the Marine Biology Research group, various levels of pH can be generated, according to scenarios predicted by IPCC. Respiration of different taxa of meiobenthos will be assessed using newly-developed electrode or optode techniques, and will gain insight in the survival mechanisms of these sediment inhabiting organisms. Experiments can be conducted at several temperature levels, to fully mimic the oceanographic environment as predicted by 2100.

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