The sea urchin egg jelly coat is important in fertilisation as a source of sperm activating compounds, in species-specific gamete recognition and in increasing egg target size for sperm. The impact of ocean acidification (− 0.3 to 0.5 pHT units) on the egg jelly coat of Arbacia lixula was investigated comparing populations resident in a control (pHT 8.00) and a CO2 vent site (mean pHT 7.69) in Ischia. Measurements of egg and jelly coat size showed no significant differences between sea urchins from the different sites; however, sensitivity of the jelly coat to decreased pH differed depending on the origin of the population. Acidification to pHT 7.7 and 7.5 significantly decreased egg jelly coat size of control urchins by 27 and 23%, respectively. In contrast, the jelly coat of the vent urchins was not affected by acidification. For the vent urchins, there was a significant positive relationship between egg and jelly coat size, a relationship not seen for the eggs of females from the control site. As egg and jelly coat size was similar between both populations, vent A. lixula jelly coats are likely to be chemically fine-tuned for the low pH environment. That the egg jelly coat of sea urchins from the vent site was robust to low pH shows intraspecific variation in this trait, and that this difference may be a maternal adaptive strategy or plastic response. If this is a common response in sea urchins, this would facilitate the maintenance of gamete function, facilitating fertilisation success in a low pH ocean.
Foo S. A.,