Global concern over increasing CO2 emissions, and the resultant CO2 driven temperature rises and changes in seawater chemistry, necessitates the advancement of understanding into how these changes will affect marine life now and in the future. Here we report on an experimental investigation into the effects of increased CO2concentration and elevated temperature on sedimentary meiofaunal communities.
Cohesive (muddy) and non-cohesive (sandy) sediments were collected from the Eden Estuary in St. Andrews, Scotland, UK, placed within a flume setup and exposed to 2 levels of CO2 concentration (380 and 750 ppmv, current at the time of the experiment, and predicted CO2 concentration by 2100, respectively) and 2 temperature levels (12 °C and 16 °C, current in-situ and predicted temperature by 2100, respectively). We investigated the metazoan meiofauna and nematode communities before and after 28 days of exposure under these experimental conditions.
The most determinative factor for abundance, diversity and community structure of meiofauna and nematodes was sediment type: on all levels, communities were significantly different between sand and mud sediments which agrees with what is generally known about the influence of sediment structure on meiofaunal organisms. Few CO2 and temperature effects were observed, suggesting that meiofauna and nematodes are generally much less responsive than, for instance, microbial communities and macrofauna to these environmental changes in estuarine environments, where organisms are naturally exposed to a fluctuating environment. This was corroborated by the observed effects related to the different seasons in which the samples were taken from the field to run the experiment. After 28 days, meiofauna and nematode communities in muddy sediments showed a greater response to increased CO2 concentration and temperature rise than in sandy sediments.
However, further study is needed to investigate the underlying mechanisms and meiofauna species-specific resilience and responses to ocean acidification and warming, and their interactions with other biota, to understand what such changes may mean for meiofauna communities and the ecosystem processes and functions they contribute to.