Effects of ocean acidification on early life-history stages of the intertidal porcelain crab Petrolisthes cinctipes

Intertidal zone organisms naturally experience daily fluctuations in pH, presently reaching values beyond what is predicted for open ocean surface waters from ocean acidification (OA) by the year 2100, and thus present an opportunity to study the pH sensitivity of organisms that are presumably adapted to an acidified environment. The intertidal zone porcelain crab, Petrolisthes cinctipes, was used to study physiological responses to low pH in embryonic, larval and newly recruited juvenile life-history stages. In these crabs, embryonic development occurs in the pH-variable intertidal zone (pH 6.9–9.5), larvae mature in the more stable pelagic environment (pH 7.9–8.2), and juvenile crabs settle back into the pH-variable intertidal zone. We examined survival, cardiac performance, energetics and morphology in embryonic, larval and juvenile crabs exposed to two pH conditions (pH 7.9 and 7.6). Embryos and larvae were split by brood between the pH treatments for 9 days to examine brood-specific responses to low pH. Hatching success did not differ between pH conditions, but ranged from 30% to 95% among broods. Larval survival was not affected by acidification, but juvenile survival was reduced by ~30% after longer (40 days) exposure to low pH. Embryonic and larval heart rates were 37% and 20% lower at low pH, and there was a brood-specific response in embryos. Embryos did not increase in volume under acidified conditions, compared with a 15% increase in ambient conditions. We conclude that sustained exposure to low pH could be detrimental to P. cinctipes embryos and larvae despite the fact that embryos are regularly exposed to naturally fluctuating hypercapnic water in the intertidal zone. Importantly, our results indicate that early life-history stage responses to OA may be brood specific through as yet undetermined mechanisms.

Ceballos-Osuna L., Carter H. A., Miller N. A. & Stillman J. H., 2013. Effects of ocean acidification on early life-history stages of the intertidal porcelain crab Petrolisthes cinctipes. Journal of Experimental Biology 216: 1405-1411. Article (subscription required).

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