Effects of ocean acidification on development of Alaskan crab larvae

The oceans absorb a large proportion of the carbon dioxide gas (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere. This CO2 changes the chemistry of seawater to make it more acidic, a phenomenon termed ocean acidification. Ocean acidification can have negative impacts on marine fauna, especially during early life stages, presenting a risk to ecosystems and fisheries. This research tested the effects of ocean acidification on the larval development of three crab species in Alaska: Tanner crab (Chionoecetes bairdi), rock crab (Glebocarcinus oregonensis), and Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister). Experiments were undertaken to assess the effects of exposure to low-pH conditions (decrease of up to 0.6 pH units from current levels, range of pH ~8.1 to 7.5) on survival, growth (morphometrics and mass), and carapace mineral composition of larval Tanner, rock, and Dungeness crabs. Results showed a decrease in survival as well as a small but nonsignificant decrease in size of Tanner crabs. There was a small and complex effect of pH on survival of Dungeness crabs. Rock crabs raised in low-pH conditions (pH 7.5) had higher individual biomass than those raised in ambient conditions (pH 8.1). There was no significant impact of pH on mineralization of any species. Therefore, low pH had a negative effect on development of Tanner crabs, a small effect on Dungeness larval survival and no discernible negative effect on rock crab larvae. Differences in response to ocean acidification may be related to pre-adaptation to variable pH conditions through lifestyle such that species that live in deeper, more stable waters (e.g., Tanner crab) are more vulnerable than species living in shallower, more variable waters (e.g., rock and Dungeness crabs). These observations suggest that ocean acidification will have negative impacts on Tanner and Dungeness crab larval survival with potential implications for recruitment to the adult population and consequently, for their fisheries.

Descôteaux R., 2014. Effects of ocean acidification on development of Alaskan crab larvae. MSc thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 71 pp. Thesis.

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