Non-linear effects of ocean acidification on the transmission of a marine intertidal parasite

High levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are driving the acidification of the world’s oceans, with considerable and generally negative impacts on the physiology, performance and survival of marine organisms. The differential and often idiosyncratic responses shown by different taxa suggest that interspecific interactions may be drastically affected by ocean acidification. Here, we quantified the transmission success of the trematode Maritrema novaezealandense to its intertidal amphipod intermediate host Paracalliope novizealandiae, as well as the host’s survival, under acidified conditions. We used a custom-built system to simulate ocean acidification with 3 different seawater treatments: 8.1 pH, corresponding to current average ocean surface waters, as well as 7.6 and 7.4 pH, the levels predicted for the years 2100 and 2300, respectively. In 2 separate experiments, parasite transmission success tended to peak in the most acidified conditions (7.4 pH), although this was only statistically significant when a wide range of infection doses was used. Because the survival of the parasite’s transmission stages decreases with decreasing pH, this pattern suggests that host susceptibility remains unaffected at 7.6 pH and is only compromised with further acidification. Amphipod mortality was not affected by pH levels, though it tended to be lowest at 7.6 pH, where the longevity of parasite transmission stages was reduced but host susceptibility was unaffected. These results suggest that ocean acidification could change the dynamics of parasite transmission with possible consequences for intertidal community structure, and emphasise the need to consider the transmission and severity of marine parasites and diseases in ocean acidification research.

Harland H., MacLeod C. D. & Poulin R., 2015. Non-linear effects of ocean acidification on the transmission of a marine intertidal parasite. Marine Ecology Progress Series 536:55-64. Article (subscription required).

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