Acidifying oceans dramatically stunt growth of already threatened shellfish, research finds

New research shows that global warming and its effects — in particular, ocean acidification — have descended upon shellfish reefs, particularly those formed by the Olympia oyster.

More than one-third of the world’s human-caused carbon dioxide emissions have entered the oceans, according to Brian Gaylord, a biological oceanographer at the Bodega Marine Laboratory of the University of California at Davis.

“Similar to what happens in carbonated soda,” says Gaylord, “increasing carbon dioxide in seawater makes it more acidic.”

Even with small changes in acidity, seawater becomes corrosive to the shells of aquatic organisms.

That’s not good news for most marine life, especially for oysters.

Gaylord is investigating the consequences of this increasing ocean acidity on the growth of larval and juvenile Olympia oysters native to the U.S. West Coast.

“Such early life stages can be extremely sensitive to environmental stresses like ocean acidification,” says Gaylord.

“These stages operate as bottlenecks that drive overall population numbers. If larval and juvenile Olympia oysters decline as a result of an acidifying ocean, what does that mean for the species as a whole?”

Likely nothing good, he and colleagues say.

“Changes now happening in the ocean’s chemistry are expected to continue far into the foreseeable future,” says David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s biological oceanography program, which funds Gaylord’s research. “They may have myriad effects on marine animals.”

ScienceDaily, 23 April 2010. Full article.

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