Coupled changes in oxygen concentration and pH caused by metabolism of benthic coral reef organisms.
Benthic marine primary producers affect the chemistry of their surrounding environment through metabolic processes. Photosynthesis and respiration will elevate or depress the concentration of oxygen in the diffusive boundary layer. Likewise, acid–base regulation and biomineralization/dissolution for calcifying species can alter the relative concentration of inorganic carbon species and thus pH. Here, we measured the relative ability of several common benthic primary producers from coral reef systems of the central Pacific and the Caribbean to simultaneously affect seawater oxygen concentration and pH values. Repeated measurements over a diel cycle confirmed that several primary producers substantially alter surrounding seawater chemistry over time. The majority of fleshy algae exhibited a stoichiometric ratio of oxygen to hydrogen ions not significantly different from one during daylight hours. In contrast, calcifiers exhibited significantly lower oxygen to hydrogen ion ratios that were unique for each species and were inversely correlated with known rates of calcification. These data provide the first quantitative estimates of the simultaneous influence of several species of benthic primary producers on water column oxygen concentrations and pH across different tropical reef systems. Finally, because more productive fleshy taxa have the potential to raise both oxygen and pH during the day to a greater extent than calcified species, our results suggest that some fleshy taxa may provide a buffering capacity to future ocean acidification scenarios.