Fertilisation, embryogenesis and larval development in the tropical intertidal sand dollar Arachnoides placenta in response to reduced seawater pH

We examined the response of the tropical sand dollar Arachnoides placenta to reduced seawater pH in experiments spanning ca. 50 % of the planktonic larval duration. A. placenta inhabits intertidal sandy beaches where we observed a minimum in situ pH range 0.06 pH units (pH 8.10–8.16). The responses of gametes and larvae to seawater pH were tested in vitro in ambient (pH 8.14, pCO2 = 525.7 μatm, total alkalinity = 2,651 μmol kg soln−1) and three reduced pH seawater treatments (7.8–7.0). Percentage fertilisation decreased significantly with decreasing pH across a range of sperm/egg ratios (4:1 up to 4,000:1). A. placenta reached the advanced pluteus stage in 4 days, and during this time, we saw no difference in survival rate of larvae between the ambient (67 %) and pH 7.79 (72 %) treatments. Four-day survival was, however, reduced to 44 and 11 % in the pH 7.65 and 7.12 treatments, respectively. Larval development and morphometrics varied among pH treatments. Embryos reared in pH 7.12 exhibited arrested development. Larvae reared at pH 7.65 showed delayed development and greater mortality compared with those reared at pH 7.79 and 8.14. When larval morphometrics are compared among larvae of the same size, differences in larval width and total arm length between pH treatments disappear. These results suggest that variation in larval size among the three highest pH treatments at a given time are likely the result of slower development and apparent shrinkage of surviving larvae and not direct changes in larval shape. There were no differences in the percentage inorganic content (a proxy for calcification) in larvae reared in either an ambient or a pH 7.7 treatment. The responses of fertilisation and development to decreased pH/increased pCO2 in A. placenta are within the range of those reported for other intertidal and subtidal echinoid species from colder latitudes.

Gonzalez-Bernat M. J., Lamare M., Uthicke S. & Byrne M., in press. Fertilisation, embryogenesis and larval development in the tropical intertidal sand dollar Arachnoides placenta in response to reduced seawater pH. Marine Biology. doi: 10.1007/s00227-012-2034-2. Article (subscription required).

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