Hypoxia and acidification have additive and synergistic negative effects on the growth, survival, and metamorphosis of early life stage bivalves

Low oxygen zones in coastal and open ocean ecosystems have expanded in recent decades, a trend that will accelerate with climatic warming. There is growing recognition that low oxygen regions of the ocean are also acidified, a condition that will intensify with rising levels of atmospheric CO2. Presently, however, the concurrent effects of low oxygen and acidification on marine organisms are largely unknown, as most prior studies of marine hypoxia have not considered pH levels. We experimentally assessed the consequences of hypoxic and acidified water for early life stage bivalves (bay scallops, Argopecten irradians, and hard clams, Mercenaria mercenaria), marine organisms of significant economic and ecological value and sensitive to climate change. In larval scallops, experimental and naturally-occurring acidification (pH, total scale = 7.4–7.6) reduced survivorship (by >50%), low oxygen (30–50 µM) inhibited growth and metamorphosis (by >50%), and the two stressors combined produced additively negative outcomes. In early life stage clams, however, hypoxic waters led to 30% higher mortality, while acidified waters significantly reduced growth (by 60%). Later stage clams were resistant to hypoxia or acidification separately but experienced significantly (40%) reduced growth rates when exposed to both conditions simultaneously. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that the consequences of low oxygen and acidification for early life stage bivalves, and likely other marine organisms, are more severe than would be predicted by either individual stressor and thus must be considered together when assessing how ocean animals respond to these conditions both today and under future climate change scenarios.

Gobler C. J., DePasquale E. L., Griffith A. W. & Baumann H., 2014. Hypoxia and acidification have additive and synergistic negative effects on the growth, survival, and metamorphosis of early life stage bivalves . PLoS ONE 9(1): e83648. Article.

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