Researchers discover oysters can adapt to climate change

Sydney rock oysters can adapt to ocean acidification, a key effect of increased carbon levels, within two generations, researchers have found.

Scientist Dr Laura Parker from the University of Western Sydney says while the first oysters they tested suffered, their offspring thrived in more acidic water.

“They’re actually starting to adapt so that they’re growing quite well, their ability to develop at a normal rate is improved and they’re not showing abnormalities anymore.”

Dr Parker’s findings were presented at the Australian Marine Sciences Association conference in Canberra on Wednesday.

“That could be implemented in aquaculture, we can maybe breed for adaptation to ocean acidification,” she said.

Oyster growers say ensuring a steady supply of disease resistant juvenile oysters will be critical to their industry’s ability to cope with climate change.

David Maidment, who farms Sydney rock oysters at Narooma on the New South Wales south coast, says similar problems encountered overseas mean the work is timely.

“I see the supply of young oysters as the most critical thing, they’ve had difficulty in the hatcheries in north west America now with ocean acidification.”

“To know where we’re going with that in the future is the most critical thing, because it certainly can affect our production in the future.”

But oyster researcher Professor David Raftos from Macquarie University, cautions that there’s still a long way to go before the laboratory findings so far, translate into an oyster producers can grow and sell.

“There are a huge number of outstanding questions as to how quickly they can do it in the natural environment,” he says.

“We don’t know what the benefits of selecting for these genes will be in the long term and we don’t know what the potential trade-offs, the bad things will be, that will only come when oysters like this are bred and deployed out into the field, so you can actually see how they can perform.”

Clyde River oyster grower Kevin McAsh wants research efforts to focus on what he says are the industry’s more immediate concerns; water monitoring, pacific oyster mortality syndrome and QX disease in Sydney rock oysters.

“I think being vigilant and monitoring for those sort of disease problems takes precedent.”

But he says he’d welcome greater co-operation between growers and researchers.

“The oyster farmers up and down the coast here would be very happy to work with them so that if there are some dramatic changes in terms of the water quality or the mortalities that we get we have some benchmark to work from.

“Certainly the farmers would be very keen to work with science.”

Oysters are New South Wales’ biggest aquaculture industry, worth $33 million in 2011/ 12 according the Department of Primary Industries.

James Bennett, ABC, 9 July 2014. Article.

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