In vivo pH measurement at the site of calcification in an octocoral
Calcareous octocorals are ecologically important calcifiers, but little is known about their biomineralization physiology, relative to scleractinian corals. Many marine calcifiers promote calcification by up-regulating pH at calcification sites against the surrounding seawater. Here, we investigated pH in the red octocoral Corallium rubrum which forms sclerites and an axial skeleton. To achieve this, we cultured microcolonies on coverslips facilitating microscopy of calcification sites of sclerites and axial skeleton. Initially we conducted extensive characterisation of the structural arrangement of biominerals and calcifying cells in context with other tissues, and then measured pH by live tissue imaging. Our results reveal that developing sclerites are enveloped by two scleroblasts and an extracellular calcifying medium of pH 7.97 ± 0.15. Similarly, axial skeleton crystals are surrounded by cells and a calcifying medium of pH 7.89 ± 0.09. In both cases, calcifying media are more alkaline compared to calcifying cells and fluids in gastrovascular canals, but importantly they are not pH up-regulated with respect to the surrounding seawater, contrary to what is observed in scleractinians. This points to a potential vulnerability of this species to decrease in seawater pH and is consistent with reports that red coral calcification is sensitive to ocean acidification.