Impacts of near-future ocean acidification and warming on the shell mechanical and geochemical properties of gastropods from intertidal to subtidal zones

Many marine organisms produce calcareous shells as the key structure for defence, but the functionality of shells may be compromised by ocean acidification and warming. Nevertheless, calcifying organisms may adaptively modify their shell properties in response to these impacts. Here, we examined how reduced pH and elevated temperature affect shell mechanical and geochemical properties of common grazing gastropods from intertidal to subtidal zones. Given the greater environmental fluctuations in the intertidal zone, we hypothesized that intertidal gastropods would exhibit more plastic responses in shell properties than subtidal gastropods. Overall, three out of five subtidal gastropods produced softer shells at elevated temperature, while intertidal gastropods maintained their shell hardness at both elevated pCO2 (i.e. reduced pH) and temperature. Regardless of pH and temperature, degree of crystallization was maintained (except one subtidal gastropod) and carbonate polymorph remained unchanged in all tested species. One intertidal gastropod produced less soluble shells (e.g. higher calcite/aragonite) in response to reduced pH. In contrast, subtidal gastropods only produced aragonite which has higher solubility than calcite. Overall, subtidal gastropods are expected to be more susceptible than intertidal gastropods to shell dissolution and physical damage under future seawater conditions. The increased vulnerability to shell dissolution and predation could have serious repercussions for their survival and ecological contributions in the future subtidal environment.

Leung J. Y. S., Connell S. D., Nagelkerken I. & Russell B. D., in press. Impacts of near-future ocean acidification and warming on the shell mechanical and geochemical properties of gastropods from intertidal to subtidal zones. Environmental Science & Technology. Article (subscription required).

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