How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

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The Future of Coral Reefs
Wilkinson, C.R.  1999.  Global and local threats to coral reef functioning and existence: review and predictions.  Marine and Freshwater Research 50: 867-878.

What was done
The author reviews what we know about coral reefs and a number of real and potential threats to their well-being.

What was learned
With respect to local or direct anthropogenic stresses, Wilkinson concludes that the prognosis "is indeed grim, with major reductions almost certain in the extent and biodiversity of coral reefs, and severe disruptions to cultures and economies dependent on reef resources."  With respect to global or indirect anthropogenic stresses, he concludes that the prognosis "is more encouraging because coral reefs have remarkable resilience to severe disruption and will probably show this resilience in the future when climate changes either stabilize or reverse."

What it means
Although no one can predict the future with certainty, Wilkinson's review of the literature leads him to conclude that "there is little doubt that coral reefs will eventually recover from the present ranges of human-induced pressures and continue to exist and evolve in changing environments into the future."  In fact, he concludes "they should outlive the species causing most damage at the moment, Homo sapiens."  From another perspective, he also concludes that potential climate change "may have far more severe impacts on terrestrial ecosystems" than they do on oceanic ones.

Reviewed 1 June 2000