Giant clams and rising CO2: light may ameliorate effects of ocean acidification on a solar-powered animal

Global climate change and ocean acidification pose a serious threat to marine life. Marine invertebrates are particularly susceptible to ocean acidification, especially highly calcareous taxa such as molluscs, echinoderms and corals. The largest of all bivalve molluscs, giant clams, are already threatened by a variety of local pressures, including overharvesting, and are in decline worldwide. Several giant clam species are listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and now climate change and ocean acidification pose an additional threat to their conservation. Unlike most other molluscs, giant clams are ‘solar-powered’ animals containing photosynthetic algal symbionts suggesting that light could influence the effects of ocean acidification on these vulnerable animals. In this study, juvenile fluted giant clams Tridacna squamosa were exposed to three levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) (control ~400, mid ~650 and high ~950 μatm) and light (photosynthetically active radiation 35, 65 and 304 μmol photons m-2 s-1). Elevated CO2 projected for the end of this century (~650 and ~950 μatm) reduced giant clam survival and growth at mid-light levels. However, effects of CO2 on survival were absent at high-light, with 100% survival across all CO2 levels. Effects of CO2 on growth of surviving clams were lessened, but not removed, at high-light levels. Shell growth and total animal mass gain were still reduced at high-CO2. This study demonstrates the potential for light to alleviate effects of ocean acidification on survival and growth in a threatened calcareous marine invertebrate. Managing water quality (e.g. turbidity and sedimentation) in coastal areas to maintain water clarity may help ameliorate some negative effects of ocean acidification on giant clams and potentially other solar-powered calcifiers, such as hard corals.

Watson S.-A., 2015. Giant clams and rising CO2: light may ameliorate effects of ocean acidification on a solar-powered animal. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0128405. Article.

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