Ocean life breaking rules by building shells in acidic extremes

Rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel combustion is acidifying our oceans [1,2] . This acidification is expected to have negative effects on calcifying animals because it affects their ability to build shells [3,4]. However, the effects of ocean acidification in natural environments, subject to ecological and evolutionary processes (such as predation, competition, and adaptation), is uncertain [5,6]. These processes may buffer, or even reverse, the direct, short-term effects principally measured in laboratory experiments (for example, [6] ). Here we describe the discovery of marine snails living at a shallow-water CO2 vent in the southwest Pacific, an environment 30 times more acidic than normal seawater (Figure 1). By measuring the chemical fingerprints locked within the shell material, we show that these snails have a restricted range of movement, which suggests that they live under these conditions for their entire lives. The existence of these snails demonstrates that calcifying animals can build their shells under the acidic and corrosive conditions caused by extreme CO2 enrichment. This unforeseen capacity, whether driven by ecological or adaptive processes, is key to understanding whether calcifying life may survive a high-CO2 future.

Doubleday Z. A., Nagelkerken I. & Connell S. D., 2017. Ocean life breaking rules by building shells in acidic extremes. Current Biology 27 (20): R1104–R1106. Article (subscription required).

 

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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