How climate change may change coral reef erosion

Graduate Student: Lauren Valentino


Humans are increasingly emitting carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and the ocean. When more CO2 enters the ocean, it affects the seawater chemistry and decreases ocean pH. Coral reef ecosystems will be particularly sensitive to this decline in ocean pH known as ocean acidification (OA).

Many studies focus on how OA will affect the process of reef construction such as how fast coral reef organisms grow. However, the exact opposite process of reef destruction is just as important and a critical part of reef balance. It is predicted that OA will expedite rates destructive processes such as dissolution and erosion, which would have negative implications for future reefs.


Lauren Valentino studies bioerosion, which is the breakdown of coral into rubble and sand by living organisms. She specifically studies a type of bioeroding bivalve that burrows into living coral. Lauren tested the effects of OA on the boring capacity of Lithophaga laevigata living within living massive Porites (a type of mounding coral). L. laevigata is abundant within massive Porites on the back reef of Moorea, French Polynesia. She conducted a month-long experiments in aquaria where coral cores with and without Lithophaga, were incubated in current and future predicted pCO2 levels. Bioerosion rates of Lithophaga in coral cores were compared (based on changes in weight), and tested the hypothesis that OA increases the ability of bivalves to bioerode in elevated pCO2 conditions. A better understanding of this abundant and active bioeroder under simulated future environmental conditions can provide insight to the poorly understood effects of OA on bioerosion.

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