Sean Connell Series: Moving ocean acidification research beyond its pioneering roots

 A new paper has been published in Food Webs recently, the paper was led by Giulia Ghedinia PhD Candidate and her supervisor Professor Sean Connell investigate carbon dioxide and ocean acidification.

Professor Sean Connell writes the following guest post:

Tests of the ecological responses to field of ocean acidification started less than 10 years ago.  With the realisation that CO2 emissions were acidifying the oceans, similar to adding CO2 to soft-drinks, ecologists wondered what this might do for animals that build shells.

Carbon emissions energise marine ecosystems

Sean Connell has taken this mainstream research and advanced it by recognising that CO2 enrichment also makes carbon more available for marine plant growth and therefore, may energise whole ecosystems.  The network of organisms with ecosystems are linked through the transfer of energy and nutrients, beginning with plants and their consumption by herbivores, and their consumption by predators and onwards up the chain.  This field of research has now progressed past simple tests of acidification on vulnerable species and trite predictions of ‘winners and losers’ in a high CO2 world.

Nature fights back

When considering the energising of food webs, Prof Connell also realised the potential for powerful stabilisers to resist ocean warming and acidification.  If plant life is to flourish, then so would the herbivores that feed on them.  He has since shown that herbivores reproduce more and have out-breaking populations where CO2 boosts plant life in both mescosms and natural CO2 vents.  By discovering the ability for nature to compensate for disturbance, he and Giulia Ghedini pioneered three key papers that describe a new theory of trophic compensation.  That is, animal life will keep plant life in check because their feeding increases in proportional strength to the effects of the disturbance.  Where compensation fails, whole ecosystems fail.

This work and the groundbreaking papers are brought together in a synthesis of emerging findings and future needs.


Read the full paper in Food Webs

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