Copper exposure and seawater acidification interaction: Antagonistic effects on biomarkers in the zooxanthellate scleractinian coral Mussismilia harttii
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Coral reefs are threatened by global and local impacts, such as ocean acidification (OA) and metal contamination. Toxicity of metals, such as copper (Cu), is expected to be enhanced with OA. However, the interaction between these environmental stressors is still poorly evaluated. In the present study, the interactive effects of seawater acidification and increasing Cu concentrations were evaluated in a zooxanthellate scleractinian coral (Mussismilia harttii), using biochemical biomarkers involved in the coral calcification process and the photosynthetic metabolism of endosymbionts. Corals were kept under control conditions (no seawater acidification and no Cu addition in seawater) or exposed to combined treatments of reduced seawater pH (8.1, 7.8, 7.5 and 7.2) and environmentally relevant concentrations of dissolved Cu (measured: 1.0, 1.6, 2.3 and 3.2 μg/L) in a mesocosm system. After 15- and 35-days exposure, corals were analyzed for photochemical efficiency (Fv/Fm), chlorophyll a content, Ca-ATPase and carbonic anhydrase (CA) activity. Results showed that 76% of the interactions between reduced seawater pH and increasing Cu concentrations were antagonistic. Only 24% of these interactions were additive or synergistic. In general, the combination of stressors had no significant deleterious effects in the photosynthetic metabolism of endosymbionts or Ca-ATPase activity. In fact, the lowest dissolved Cu concentration tested had a consistent positive effect on Ca-ATPase activity in corals facing any of the reduced seawater pH conditions tested. In turn, potentially deleterious effects on acid-base balance in M. harttii, associated with changes in CA activity, were intensified by the combination of stressors. Findings reported here indicate that Cu toxicity in future OA scenarios can be less severe than previously suggested in this coral holobiont.