Physiological compensation for environmental acidification is limited in the deep-sea urchin Strongylocentrotus fragilis

Anthropogenic CO2 is now reaching depths over 1000 m in the Eastern Pacific, overlapping the Oxygen Minimum Zone (OMZ). Deep-sea animals – particularly, calcifiers – are suspected to be especially sensitive to environmental acidification associated with global climate change. We have investigated the effects of hypercapnia and hypoxia on the deep-sea urchin Strongylocentrotus fragilis, during two long-term exposure experiments (1 month and 4 month) at three levels of reduced pH at in situ O2 levels of approx. 10% saturation, and also to control pH at 100% O2 saturation. During the first experiment, internal acid-base balance was investigated during a one-month exposure; results show S. fragilis has limited ability to compensate for the respiratory acidosis brought on by reduced pH, due in part to low non-bicarbonate extracellular fluid buffering capacity. During the second experiment, longer-term effects of hypercapnia and variable O2 on locomotion, feeding, growth, and gonadosomatic index (GSI) were investigated; results show significant mortality and correlation of all measured parameters with environmental acidification at pH 6.6. Transient adverse effects on locomotion and feeding were seen at pH 7.2, without compromise of growth or GSI. Based on the expected changes in ocean pH and oxygen, results suggest extinction of S. fragilis in the eastern North Pacific is unlikely. Rather, we expect a shoaling and contraction of its bathymetric range.

Taylor J. R., Lovera C., Whaling P. J., Buck K. R., Pane E. F. & Barry J. P., 2013. Physiological compensation for environmental acidification is limited in the deep-sea urchin Strongylocentrotus fragilis. Biogeosciences Discussions 10: 8313-8341. Article.

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