Ocean acidification alters temperature and salinity preferences in larval fish

Ocean acidification alters the way in which animals perceive and respond to their world by affecting a variety of senses such as audition, olfaction, vision and pH sensing. Marine species rely on other senses as well, but we know little of how these might be affected by ocean acidification. We tested whether ocean acidification can alter the preference for physicochemical cues used for dispersal between ocean and estuarine environments. We experimentally assessed the behavioural response of a larval fish (Lates calcarifer) to elevated temperature and reduced salinity, including estuarine water of multiple cues for detecting settlement habitat. Larval fish raised under elevated CO2 concentrations were attracted by warmer water, but temperature had no effect on fish raised in contemporary CO2 concentrations. In contrast, contemporary larvae were deterred by lower salinity water, where CO2-treated fish showed no such response. Natural estuarine water—of higher temperature, lower salinity, and containing estuarine olfactory cues—was only preferred by fish treated under forecasted high CO2 conditions. We show for the first time that attraction by larval fish towards physicochemical cues can be altered by ocean acidification. Such alterations to perception and evaluation of environmental cues during the critical process of dispersal can potentially have implications for ensuing recruitment and population replenishment. Our study not only shows that freshwater species that spend part of their life cycle in the ocean might also be affected by ocean acidification, but that behavioural responses towards key physicochemical cues can also be negated through elevated CO2 from human emissions.

Pistevos J. C. A., Nagelkerken I., Rossi, T. & Connell S. D., in press. Ocean acidification alters temperature and salinity preferences in larval fish. Oecologia. Article (subscription required).

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