Present-day nearshore pH differentially depresses fertilization in congeneric sea urchins

Ocean acidification impacts fertilization in some species of sea urchin, but whether sensitivity is great enough to be influenced by present-day pH variability has not been documented. In this study, fertilization in two congeneric sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and S. franciscanus, was found to be sensitive to reduced pH, <7.50, but only within a range of sperm-egg ratios that was species-specific. By further testing fertilization across a broad range of pH, pH-fertilization curves were generated and revealed that S. purpuratus was largely robust to pH, while fertilization in S. franciscanus was sensitive to even modest reductions in pH. Combining the pH-fertilization response curves with pH data collected from these species’ habitat demonstrated that relative fertilization success remained high for S. purpuratus but could be as low as 79% for S. franciscanus during periods of naturally low pH. In order for S. franciscanus to maintain high fertilization success in the present and future, adequate adult densities, and thus sufficient sperm-egg ratios, will be required to negate the effects of low pH. In contrast, fertilization of S. purpuratus was robust to a broad range of pH, encompassing both present-day and future ocean acidification scenarios, even though the two congeners have similar habitats.

 

Frieder C. A., 2014. Present-day nearshore pH differentially depresses fertilization in congeneric sea urchins. The Biological Bulletin 226(1):1-7. Article (subscription required).

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