Survival of mussels in extremely acidic waters on a submarine volcano

Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing ocean acidification, compromising the ability of some marine organisms to build and maintain support structures as the equilibrium state of inorganic carbon moves away from calcium carbonate. Few marine organisms tolerate conditions where ocean pH falls significantly below today’s value of about 8.1 and aragonite and calcite saturation values below 1. Here we report dense clusters of the vent mussel Bathymodiolus brevior in natural conditions of pH values between 5.36 and 7.29 on northwest Eifuku volcano, Mariana arc, where liquid carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide emerge in a hydrothermal setting. We find that both shell thickness and daily growth increments in shells from northwest Eifuku are only about half those recorded from mussels living in water with pH>7.8. Low pH may therefore also be implicated in metabolic impairment. We identify four-decade-old mussels, but suggest that the mussels can survive for so long only if their protective shell covering remains intact: crabs that could expose the underlying calcium carbonate to dissolution are absent from this setting. The mussels’ ability to precipitate shells in such low-pH conditions is remarkable. Nevertheless, the vulnerability of molluscs to predators is likely to increase in a future ocean with low pH.



Tunnicliffe, V., Davies, K. T. A., Butterfield, D. A., Embley, R. W., Rose, J. W. & Chadwick Jr, W. W., 2009. Survival of mussels in extremely acidic waters on a submarine volcano. Nature Geoscience doi:10.1038/ngeo500, Article (subscription required).

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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