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Impact of ocean carbonation on long-term regulation of light harvesting in eelgrass Zostera marina

Billur Celebi-Ergin*, Richard C. Zimmerman, Victoria J. Hill

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Seagrasses account for approximately 10% of the ocean’s total carbon storage, although photosynthesis of seagrasses is carbon-limited at today’s oceanic pH. Therefore, increasing atmospheric CO2 concentration, which results in ocean acidification/carbonation, is predicted to have a positive impact on seagrass productivity. Previous studies have confirmed the positive influence of increasing CO2 on photosynthesis and survival of the temperate eelgrass Zostera marina, but the acclimation of photoprotective mechanisms in this context has not been characterized. This study aimed to quantify the long-term impacts of ocean acidification on photochemical control mechanisms that promote photosynthesis while simultaneously protecting eelgrass from photodamage. Eelgrass were grown in controlled outdoor aquaria at different aqueous CO2 concentrations ranging from ~50 to ~2100 μM from May 2013 to October 2014 and examined for differences in leaf optical properties. Even with daily and seasonal variations of temperature and light, CO2 enrichment consistently increased plant size, leaf thickness and chlorophyll use efficiency, and decreased pigment content and the package effect while maintaining similar light harvesting efficiency. These acclimation responses suggest a common photosynthetic sensory function, such as redox regulation, can be manipulated by CO2 availability, as well as light, and may serve to optimize photosynthetic carbon gain by seagrasses into the anthropocene.