Physiological impacts of elevated carbon dioxide and ocean acidification on fish

Most fish studied to date efficiently compensate for a hypercapnic acid-base disturbance; however, many recent studies examining the effects of ocean acidification on fish have documented impacts at CO2 levels predicted to occur before the end of this century. Notable impacts on neurosensory and behavioral endpoints, otolith growth, mitochondrial function, and metabolic rate demonstrate an unexpected sensitivity to current day and near future CO2 levels. Most explanations for these effects seem to center on increases in PCO2 and HCO3- that occur during compensation for acid-base balance, however, few studies have measured these parameters at environmentally relevant CO2 levels or directly related them to reported negative endpoints. This compensatory response is well-documented but noted variation in regulation of acid-base transport pathways across species, exposure levels, and exposure duration suggests that multiple strategies may be utilized to cope with hypercapnia. Understanding this regulation and changes in ion gradients in extracellular and intracellular compartments during CO2 exposure could provide a basis for predicting sensitivity and explaining interspecies variation. Based upon analysis of the existing literature, the present review presents a clear message that ocean acidification may cause significant effects on fish across multiple physiological systems, suggesting that pH compensation does not necessarily confer tolerance as downstream consequences and tradeoffs occur. It remains difficult to assess if acclimation responses during abrupt CO2 exposures will translate to fitness impacts over longer timescales. Nonetheless, identifying mechanisms and process that may be subject to selective pressure could be one of many important components of assessing adaptive capacity.

Heuer R. M. & Grosell M., in press. Physiological impacts of elevated carbon dioxide and ocean acidification on fish. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. Article (subscription required).

  • Reset


OA-ICC Highlights