Ocean acidification leads to altered micromechanical properties of the mineralized cuticle in juvenile red and blue king crabs

Ocean acidification (OA) adversely affects a broad range of marine calcifying organisms. Crustaceans, however, exhibit mixed responses to OA, with growth or survival negatively affected in some species, but unaffected or positively affected in others. In crustaceans, the mineralized cuticle resists mechanical loads, provides protection from the environment, and enables mobility, but little is known about how OA or interactions between OA and temperature affect its structure or function. Here, the effects of OA on the mechanics, structure, and composition of the cuticle in two Alaska king crab species was assessed. Juvenile blue king crabs (Paralithodes platypus) were exposed for a year to three pH levels, 8.1 (ambient), 7.8 and 7.5. Juvenile red king crabs (Paralithodes camtschaticus) were exposed for ~ 6 months to two pH levels, 8.0 and 7.8, at three temperatures: ambient, ambient + 2 °C, and ambient + 4 °C. Cuticle microhardness (a measure of resistance to permanent or plastic mechanical deformation), thickness, ultrastructure, and elemental composition were assessed in two body regions, the carapace and the crushing chela (claw). In both species tested, OA reduced endocuticle microhardness in the chela, but not in the carapace. There was no effect of pH or temperature on total procuticle thickness of the chela or carapace in either species. Reductions in microhardness were not driven by reduced calcium content of the shell. In fact, calcium content was significantly elevated in the carapace of blue king crabs and in the chela of red king crabs exposed to lower than ambient pH at ambient temperature, suggesting that calcium content alone is not a sufficient proxy for mechanical properties. Reduced chela microhardness, indicative of more compliant material, could compromise the utility of crushing chelae in feeding and defense.

Coffey W. D., Nardone J. A., Yarram A., Long W. C., Swiney K. M., Foy R. J. & Dickinson G. H., 2017. Ocean acidification leads to altered micromechanical properties of the mineralized cuticle in juvenile red and blue king crabs. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 495:1–12. Article (subscription required).

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