Vulnerability of the paper nautilus (Argonauta nodosa) shell to a climate-change ocean: potential for extinction by dissolution

Shell calcification in argonauts is unique. Only females of these cephalopods construct the paper nautilus shell, which is used as a brood chamber for developing embryos in the pelagic realm. As one of the thinnest (225 μm) known adult mollusc shells, and lacking an outer protective periostracum-like cover, this shell may be susceptible to dissolution as the ocean warms and decreases in pH. Vulnerability of the A. nodosa shell was investigated through immersion of shell fragments in multifactorial experiments of control (19 °C/pH 8.1; pCO2 419; ΩCa = 4.23) and near-future conditions (24 °C/pH 7.8–7.6; pCO2 932–1525; ΩCa = 2.72-1.55) for 14 days. More extreme pH treatments (pH 7.4–7.2; pCO2 2454–3882; ΩCa = 1.20-0.67) were used to assess tipping points in shell dissolution. X-ray diffractometry revealed no change in mineralogy between untreated and treated shells. Reduced shell weight due to dissolution was evident in shells incubated at pH 7.8 (projected for 2070) after 14 days at control temperature, with increased dissolution in warmer and lower pH treatments. The greatest dissolution was recorded at 24 °C (projected for local waters by 2100) compared to control temperature across all low-pH treatments. Scanning electron microscopy revealed dissolution and etching of shell mineral in experimental treatments. In the absence of compensatory mineralization, the uncovered female brood chamber will be susceptible to dissolution as ocean pH decreases. Since the shell was a crucial adaptation for the evolution of the argonauts’ holopelagic existence, persistence of A. nodosa may be compromised by shell dissolution in an ocean-change world.

Wolfe K., Smith A. M., Trimby P. & Byrne M., 2012. Vulnerability of the paper nautilus (Argonauta nodosa) shell to a climate-change ocean: potential for extinction by dissolution. Biological Bulletin 223(2): 236-244. Article.


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