Sea urchins in a high-CO2 world: partitioned effects of body size, ocean warming and acidification on metabolic rate

Body size and temperature are the major factors explaining metabolic rate, and the additional factor of pH is a major driver at the biochemical level. These three factors have frequently been found to interact, complicating the formulation of broad models predicting metabolic rates and hence ecological functioning. In this first study of the effects of warming and ocean acidification, and their potential interaction, on metabolic rate across a broad range in body size (two to three orders of magnitude difference in body mass), we addressed the impact of climate change on the sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma in context with climate projections for southeast Australia, an ocean warming hotspot. Urchins were gradually introduced to two temperatures (18 and 23°C) and two pH levels (7.5 and 8.0), at which they were maintained for 2 months. Identical experimental trials separated by several weeks validated the fact that a new physiological steady state had been reached, otherwise known as acclimation. The relationship between body size, temperature and acidification on the metabolic rate of H. erythrogramma was strikingly stable. Both stressors caused increases in metabolic rate: 20% for temperature and 19% for pH. Combined effects were additive: a 44% increase in metabolism. Body size had a highly stable relationship with metabolic rate regardless of temperature or pH. None of these diverse drivers of metabolism interacted or modulated the effects of the others, highlighting the partitioned nature of how each influences metabolic rate, and the importance of achieving a full acclimation state. Despite these increases in energetic demand there was very limited capacity for compensatory modulating of feeding rate; food consumption increased only in the very smallest specimens, and only in response to temperature, and not pH. Our data show that warming, acidification and body size all substantially affect metabolism and are highly consistent and partitioned in their effects, and for H. erythrogramma, near-future climate change will incur a substantial energetic cost.

Carey N., Harianto J. & Byrne M., 2016. Sea urchins in a high-CO2 world: partitioned effects of body size, ocean warming and acidification on metabolic rate. Journal of Experimental Biology 219:1178-1186. Article (subscription required).

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