Ocean acidification makes oceans smell funny

The odor change can be deadly to young fish that become disoriented and less able to avoid predators.

– Fish larvae in acidic waters can’t distinguish the smell of predators from non-predators.
– The loss of the ability to smell correctly caused five to nine times fewer fish larvae to survive in acidic waters.
– How fast fish can adapt and how quickly the ocean acidifies will be key factors in how significant a problem this effect causes.

As rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide create more acidic oceans, their waters may start to smell funny and that change could prove possibly fatal to fish.

New research has found that the larvae of two kinds of coral reef fish — clownfish and damselfish — lose the ability to distinguish the smell of predators from non-predators and fail to avoid the smell of predatory fish when raised in waters at acid levels predicted for the end of this century.

As a consequence, these bold-acting, acid-exposed fish suffered five to nine times more deaths in the bellies of predators than their counterparts raised at today’s acid levels, the researchers reported today at a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Pittsburgh, Penn.

A disrupted sense of smell as the ocean acidifies may affect fish of many types, researchers believe, though more study is needed.

“Chemical signals are probably dominating the lives of most animals in the water. If they can no longer discriminate between chemical signals, that’s bad news,” said Jelle Atema of Boston University, who was not a part of the study, but who hopes now to explore the effect in sharks.

“What we don’t know is how it will play out over a much longer time scale,” Atema added. “If these effects persist, it would create total havoc with the natural interactions between fish and presumably also with crustaceans, including their ability to find food and homes and everything.”

Jessica Marshall, Discovery News, 2 August 2010. Full article.

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