Irukandji jellyfish polyps exhibit tolerance to interacting climate change stressors

Increasing ocean temperatures and strengthening boundary currents have caused the poleward migration of many marine species. Cubozoan jellyfish known to cause Irukandji syndrome have historically been confined to tropical waters but may be expanding into subtropical regions. Here, we examine the interactive effects of warming and acidification on the population dynamics of polyps of an Irukandji jellyfish, Alatina nr mordens, and the formation of statoliths in newly metamorphosed medusae, to determine if this jellyfish could tolerate future conditions predicted for southeast Queensland (SEQ), Australia. Two experiments, examining the orthogonal factors of temperature and pH, were undertaken. Experiment 1 mimicked the current, ca. 2050 and ca. 2100 summer temperature and pH conditions predicted for SEQ using A1F1 scenarios (temperature: 25, 27, 29 °C; pH: 7.9, 7.8, 7.6) and Experiment 2 mimicked current and future winter conditions (18 and 22 °C, pH 7.9, 7.8, 7.6). All polyps in Experiment 1 survived and budded. Fewer polyps budded in the lower pH treatments; however, patterns varied slightly among temperature treatments. Statoliths at pH 7.6 were 24% narrower than those at pH 7.8 and 7.9. Most polyps survived the winter conditions mimicked by Experiment 2 but only polyps in the 22 °C, pH 7.9 treatment increased significantly. The current absence of A. nr mordens medusae in SEQ, despite the polyps’ ability to tolerate the current temperature and pH conditions, suggests that ecological, rather than abiotic factors currently limit their distribution. Observations that budding was lower under low pH treatments suggest that rates of asexual reproduction will likely be much slower in the future. We consider that A. nr mordens polyps are likely to tolerate future conditions but are unlikely to thrive in the long term. However, if polyps can overcome potential ecological boundaries and acidification proceeds slowly A. nr mordens could expand polewards in the short term.

Klein S. G., Pitt K. A., Rathjen K. A. & Seymour J. E., in press. Irukandji jellyfish polyps exhibit tolerance to interacting climate change stressors. Global Change Biology. Article (subscription required).

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