How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

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Effects of Climate Change and Local-Scale Stressors of Coral Reefs
Gurney, G.G., Melbourne-Thomas, J., Geronimo, R.C., Aliņo, P.M. and Johnson, C.R. 2013. Modelling coral reef futures to inform management: Can reducing local-scale stressors conserve reefs under climate change? PLOS ONE 8: e80137.

The authors write that "there is growing evidence that the vulnerability of coral reefs to the effects of climate change is increased by chronic, local-scale stressors (Carilli et al., 2009; Hughes et al., 2007) and that the cumulative effect of these stressors may be synergistic (Veron et al., 2009; Knowlton and Jackson, 2008)."

What was done
Gurney et al. "used a simulation model of coral reefs to investigate the extent to which the management of local stressors (namely poor water quality and fishing) might influence future reef state under varying climatic scenarios relating to coral bleaching," parameterizing the model "for Bolinao, the Philippines, and exploring how simulation modelling can be used to provide decision support for local management."

What was learned
The five researchers report that they found that "management of water quality, and to a lesser extent fishing, can have a significant impact on future reef state, including coral recovery following bleaching-induced mortality," noting that the stressors they examined "interacted antagonistically to affect reef state, highlighting the importance of considering the combined impact of multiple stressors rather than considering them individually."

What it means
Gurney et al. conclude by stating that "by providing explicit guidance for management of Bolinao's reef system, such as which course of management action will most likely be effective over what time scales and at which sites, we demonstrated the utility of simulation models for supporting management," while additionally noting that "aside from providing explicit guidance for management of Bolinao's reef system, our study offers insights which could inform reef management more broadly." And that insight includes the fact that reducing local-scale stressors can indeed "conserve reefs under climate change."

Carilli, J., Norris, R., Black, B., Walsh, S. and McField, M.D. 2009. Local stressors reduce coral resilience to bleaching. PLOS ONE 4: e6324.

Hughes, T.P., Rodrigues, M.J., Bellwood, D.R., Ceccarelli, D., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., McCook, L., Moltschaniwskyi, N., Pratchett, M.S., Steneck, R.S., and Willis, B. 2007. Phase shifts, herbivory, and the resilience of coral reefs to climate change. Current Biology 17: 360-365.

Knowlton, N. and Jackson, J. 2008. Shifting baselines, local impacts and global change on coral reefs. PLOS Biology 6: 215-220.

Veron, J., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Lenton, T., Lough, J., Obura, D., Pearce-Kelly, P., Sheppard, C.R.C., Spalding, M., Stafford-Smith, M.G. and Rogers, A.D. 2009. The coral reef crisis: The critical importance of <359 CO2. Marine Pollution Bulletin 58: 1428-1436.

Reviewed 26 February 2014