Recent studies suggest that increasing ocean acidification (OA) should have strong direct and indirect influences on marine invertebrates. While most theory and application for OA is based on relatively physically-stable oceanic ecological systems, less is known about the effects of acidification on nearshore and estuarine systems. Here, we investigated the structuring of a benthic infaunal community in a tropical estuarine system, along a steep salinity and pH gradient, arising largely from acid-sulphate groundwater inflows (Sungai Brunei Estuary, Borneo, July 2011- June 2012).
Preliminary data indicate that sediment pore-water salinity (range: 8.07 - 29.6 psu) declined towards the mainland in correspondence with the above-sediment estuarine water salinity (range: 3.58 – 31.2 psu), whereas the pore-water pH (range: 6.47- 7.72) was generally lower and less variable than the estuarine water pH (range: 5.78- 8.3), along the estuary. Of the thirty six species (taxa) recorded, the polychaetes Neanthes sp., Onuphis conchylega, Nereididae sp. and the amphipod Corophiidae sp., were numerically dominant. Calcified microcrustaceans (e.g., Cyclopoida sp. and Corophiidae sp.) were abundant at all stations and there was no clear distinction in distribution pattern along the estuarine between calcified and non-calcified groups. Species richness increased seawards, though abundance (density) showed no distinct directional trend. Diversity indices were generally positively correlated (Spearman’s rank correlation) with salinity and pH (p <0.05) and negatively with clay and organic matter, except for evenness values (p >0.05). Three faunistic assemblages were distinguished: (1) nereid-cyclopoid-sabellid, (2) corophiid-capitellid and (3) onuphid- nereid-capitellid. These respectively associated with lower salinity/pH and a muddy bottom, low salinity/pH and a sandy bottom, and high salinity/pH and a sandy bottom. However, CCA suggested that species distribution and community structuring is more strongly influenced by sediment particle characteristics than by the chemical properties of the water (pH and salinity).
Infaunal estuarine communities, which are typically adapted to survive relatively acidic conditions, may be less exposed, less sensitive, and less vulnerable than epibenthic or pelagic communities to further acidification of above-sediment waters. These data question the extent to which all marine infaunal communities, including oceanic communities, are likely to be affected by future global CO2-driven acidification.