Persistent carry-over effects of planktonic exposure to ocean acidification in the Olympia oyster

Predicting impacts of global environmental change is challenging due to the complex life cycles that characterize many terrestrial and aquatic taxa. Different life stages often interact with the physical environment in distinct ways, and a growing body of work suggests that stresses experienced during one life stage can “carry over” to influence subsequent stages. Assessments of population responses to environmental perturbation must therefore consider how effects might propagate across life-history transitions. We investigated consequences of ocean acidification (decreased pH and carbonate saturation) for early life stages of the Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida), a foundation species in estuaries along the Pacific coast of North America. We reared oysters at three levels of seawater pH, including a control (8.0) and two additional levels (7.9 and 7.8). Oysters were cultured through their planktonic larval period to metamorphosis and into early juvenile life. Larvae reared under pH 7.8 exhibited a 15% decrease in larval shell growth rate, and a 7% decrease in shell area at settlement, compared to larvae reared under control conditions. Impacts were even more pronounced a week after settlement, with juveniles that had been reared as larvae under reduced pH exhibiting a 41% decrease in shell growth rate. Importantly, the latter effect arose regardless of the pH level the oysters experienced as juveniles, indicating a strong carry-over effect from the larval phase. Adverse impacts of early exposure to low pH persisted for at least 1.5 months after juveniles were transferred to a common environment. Overall, our results suggest that a stringent focus on a single phase of the life cycle (e.g., one perceived as the “weakest link”), may neglect critical impacts that can be transferred across life stages in taxa with complex life histories.

Hettinger A., Sanford E., Hill T. M., Russell A. D., Sato K. N. S., Hoey J., Forsch M., Page H. N. & Gaylord B., in press. Persistent carry-over effects of planktonic exposure to ocean acidification in the Olympia oyster. Ecology. doi: 10.1890/12-0567.1. Article (subscription required).

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