Gastropod shell dissolution as a tool for biomonitoring marine acidification, with reference to coastal geochemical discharge

Marine water pH is becoming progressively reduced in response to atmospheric CO2 elevation. Considering that marine environments support a vast global biodiversity and provide a variety of ecosystem functions and services, monitoring of the coastal and intertidal water pH assumes obvious significance. Because current monitoring approaches using meters and loggers are typically limited in application in heterogeneous environments and are financially prohibitive, we sought to evaluate an approach to acidification biomonitoring using living gastropod shells. We investigated snail populations exposed naturally to corrosive water in Brunei (Borneo, South East Asia). We show that surface erosion features of shells are generally more sensitive to acidic water exposure than other attributes (shell mass) in a study of rocky-shore snail populations (Nerita chamaeleon) exposed to greater or lesser coastal geochemical acidification (acid sulphate soil seepage, ASS), by virtue of their spatial separation. We develop a novel digital approach to measuring the surface area of shell erosion. Surficial shell erosion of a muddy-sediment estuarine snail, Umbonium vestiarium, is shown to capture variation in acidic water exposure for the timeframe of a decade. Shell dissolution in Neripteron violaceum from an extremely acidic estuarine habitat, directly influenced by ASS inflows, was high variable among individuals. In conclusion, gastropod shell dissolution potentially provides a powerful and cost-effective tool for rapidly assessing marine pH change across a range of spatial and temporal frameworks and coastal intertidal environments. We discuss caveats when interpreting gastropod shell dissolution patterns.

Marshall D., Aminuddin A., Mustapha N., Ting Teck Wah D. & De Silva L., in press. Preprints. Gastropod shell dissolution as a tool for biomonitoring marine acidification, with reference to coastal geochemical discharge. Article (subscription required).

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