The impact of ocean acidification, increased seawater temperature and a bacterial challenge on the immune response and physiology of the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis

Anthropogenic activities are fundamentally altering the chemistry of the world’s oceans. Many of these modifications could have a significant impact on the health of marine organisms. Yet, despite being proposed as one of the most significant threats that marine ecosystems face, to date very little is known about the impact of anthropogenic climate change, and ocean acidification in particular, on host defence. The aims of this thesis are to investigate the impact of environmental stressors on the invertebrate immune response, providing empirical data on how anthropogenically induced stressors will impact the invertebrate immune system and how this will impact organism condition and subsequent physiological trade-offs. Exposure to reduced seawater pH and increased temperature significantly reduced the immune response in the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis. This reduction in immune response could indicate stress-induced immune dysfunction. However, the immune system protects an organism from infectious disease, ensuring survival, and should therefore be evaluated functionally rather than immunologically. By subsequently exposing mussels to a bacterial challenge this study demonstrated that an earlier study which measured a reduction in host defence represented a trade-off of immune system maintenance costs, with mussels maintaining a capacity to up-regulate immune defence when required. However, whilst this immune plasticity ensures mussels are able to survive a pathogen exposure, such a strategy appears to be physiologically costly. This cost is seen as a reduction in reproductive investment, an altered energy metabolism and an altered fatty acid composition in organisms exposed to low pH. Therefore the overarching picture that emerges is, without measuring physiological processes functionally, and in neglecting any physiological trade-offs, it is possible that many studies may misinterpret the complex physiological responses of marine organisms to ocean acidification.

Ellis R. P., 2013. The impact of ocean acidification, increased seawater temperature and a bacterial challenge on the immune response and physiology of the blue mussel, Mytilus edulis. PhD thesis, University of Plymouth, 253 p. Thesis.

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