Is the perceived resiliency of fish larvae to ocean acidification masking more subtle effects?

Ocean acidification, caused by rising concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), is widely considered to be a major global threat to marine ecosystems. To investigate the potential effects of ocean acidification on the early life stages of a commercially important fish species, European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), 12 000 larvae were incubated from hatch through metamorphosis under a matrix of two temperatures (17 and 19 °C) and two seawater pCO2s (400 and 750 μatm) and sampled regularly for 42 days. Calculated daily mortality was significantly affected by both temperature and pCO2, with both increased temperature and elevated pCO2 associated with lower daily mortality and a significant interaction between these two factors. There was no significant pCO2 effect noted on larval morphology during this period but larvae raised at 19 °C possessed significantly larger eyes and lower carbon:nitrogen ratios at the end of the study compared to those raised under 17 °C. These results suggest that D. labrax larvae are resilient to near-future oceanic conditions. However, when the incubation was continued to post-metamorphic (juvenile) animals (day 67–69), fish raised under a combination of 19 °C and 750 μatm pCO2 were significantly heavier and exhibited lower aerobic scopes than those incubated at 19 °C and 400 μatm. Most other studies investigating the effects of near-future oceanic conditions on the early life stages of marine fish have used incubations of relatively short durations and suggested these animals are resilient to ocean acidification. We propose the durations of these other studies may be insufficient for more subtle effects, such as those observed in this study, to become apparent. These findings may have important implications for both sea bass in a changing ocean and also for the interpretation of results from other studies that have shown resiliency in marine teleosts exposed to higher atmospheric concentrations of CO2.

Pope E. C., Ellis R. P., Scolamacchia M., Scolding J. W. S., Keay A., Chingombe P., Shields R. J., Wilcox R., Speirs D. C., Wilson R. W., Lewis C. & Flynn K. J., 2013. Is the perceived resiliency of fish larvae to ocean acidification masking more subtle effects? Biogeosciences Discussions 10:17043-17070. Article.

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