Ocean acidification accelerates dissolution of experimental coral reef communities.
Ocean acidification (OA) poses a severe threat to tropical coral reefs, yet much of what is know about these effects comes from individual corals and algae incubated in isolation under high pCO2. Studies of similar effects on coral reef communities are scarce. To investigate the response of coral reef communities to OA, we used large outdoor flumes in which communities composed of calcified algae, corals, and sediment were combined to match the percentage cover of benthic communities in the shallow back reef of Moorea, French Polynesia. Reef communities in the flumes were exposed to ambient (~ 400 μatm) and high pCO2 (~ 1300 μatm) for 8 weeks, and calcification rates measured for the constructed communities including the sediments. Community calcification was reduced by 59% under high pCO2, with sediment dissolution explaining ~ 50% of this decrease; net calcification of corals and calcified algae remained positive but was reduced by 29% under elevated pCO2. These results show that, despite the capacity of coral reef calcifiers to maintain positive net accretion of calcium carbonate under OA conditions, reef communities might transition to net dissolution as pCO2 increases, particularly at night, due to enhanced sediment dissolution.