The effects of ocean acidification on multiple life history stages of the Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas: implications for physiological trade-offs

As global climate change accelerates , due in large part to increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use , agriculture, and large-scale changes in land use, natural ecosysems bear the consequences. For marine systems these include increased mean seawater temperature, changes in carbonate chemistry equilibria, and increased pollutant loading due to non-point run-off, among other effects. Human-induced environmental changes will not have the same magnitude of effect in all regions, but on average the changes occurring are rapid and significant. Natural populations will either need to acclimatize and/or adapt, or shift their ranges to enable continued existence. This dissertation explores the effects of ocean acidification on the Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas. Oysters are sedentary and inhabit a naturally variable environment (the intertidal zone) and thus may be pre-adapted to withstand rapid environmental change. Oysters and similarly sedentary organisms are ideal for investigating the effects of environmental change on biology because they are not able to escape these changes, but must respond physiologically (acclimatize) if they are to survive . Due to this ecological history, oysters provide a model that allows us to explore potential physiological mechanisms that are needed in a response to specific environmental changes as well as the limits of these mechanisms.

In the first chapter, the effects of elevated partial pressure of CO2(pCO2,a major driver of ocean acidification) on oyster larvae are explored. Larvae were exposed to low pH during early development, a period that included the transition from energetic dependence on maternally derived lipids to dependence on exogenous resources. Larvae were found to experience a developmental delay at elevated pCO2, manifested as smaller size and slower rate of shell deposition. These significant effects of ocean acidification on early larval development may indicate a bottleneck in the oyster life cycle as the pH of marine waters decreases. Subsequent research has shown that these effects at early larval stages can carry over into later stages after settlement in another oyster species (Hettinger et al. 2012). In order to better understand the effects of environmental change on oyster physiology, we developed proteomic tools to explore changes in protein pathways in oyster gill (ctenidia) tissue.

The second chapter explores the gill proteome (suite of expressed proteins) of adult oysters. Characterization of the proteome provides insight into the physiological mechanisms that may be available to the oyster during response to an environmental stress. The results revealed that the ctenidia proteome includes a diverse array of proteins that accomplish many functions and that it is a metabolically active tissue. The proteome sequencing lays the groundwork for exploring how ocean acidification affects various proteomic pathways in the tissue that acts as the interface between the oyster and its environment. Lastly, the adult oyster response to ocean acidification and a second stress are explored via proteomics, fatty acid profiles, glycogen content, shell microstructure, and mortality in response to heat shock. There was a significant impact of ocean acidification on oyster shell integrity, but no effects after one month of exposure on relative amounts of fatty acid, glycogen or response to acute heat shock. Through the proteomic analysis, we revealed an active and significant proteomic response to ocean acidification exposure, uncovering some of the mechanisms behind the observed macro-phenotypic changes. Additionally, the proteomic response to mechanical stimulation was largely altered between low and high pCO2 , suggesting that ocean acidification can fundamentally change how oysters respond to a second stress.

Timmins-Schiffman E. B., 2014. The effects of ocean acidification on multiple life history stages of the Pacific oyster, Crassostrea gigas: implications for physiological trade-offs. PhD thesis, University of Washington, 138 pp. Thesis.


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