Effects of ocean warming and acidification on fertilization in the Antarctic echinoid Sterechinus neumayeri across a range of sperm concentrations

The gametes of marine invertebrates are being spawned into an ocean that is simultaneously warming and decreasing in pH. Predicting the potential for interactive effects of these stressors on fertilization is difficult, especially for stenothermal polar invertebrates adapted to fertilization in cold, viscous water and, when decreased sperm availability may be an additional stressor. The impact of increased temperature (2-4°C above ambient) and decreased pH (0.2-0.4 pH units below ambient) on fertilization in the Antarctic echinoid Sterechinus neumayeri across a range of sperm concentrations was investigated in cross-factorial experiments in context with near future ocean change projections. The high temperature treatment (+4°C) was also used to assess thermal tolerance. Gametes from multiple males and females in replicate experiments were used to reflect the multiple spawner scenario in nature. For fertilization at low sperm density we tested three hypotheses, 1) increased temperature enhances fertilization success, 2) low pH reduces fertilization and, 3) due to the cold stenothermal physiology of S. neumayeri, temperature would be the more significant stressor. Temperature and sperm levels had a significant effect on fertilization, but decreased pH did not affect fertilization. Warming enhanced fertilization at the lowest sperm concentration tested likely through stimulation of sperm motility and reduced water viscosity. Our results indicate that fertilization in S. neumayeri, even at potentially low sperm levels found in nature, is resilient to near-future ocean warming and acidification.

Ho M. A., Price C., King C. K., Virtue P. & Byrne M., in press. Effects of ocean warming and acidification on fertilization in the Antarctic echinoid Sterechinus neumayeri across a range of sperm concentrations. Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).


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