Ocean acidification reduces mechanical properties of the Portuguese oyster shell with impaired microstructure: a hierarchical analysis

The rapidly intensifying process of ocean acidification (OA) in coastal areas due to anthropogenic CO2 is not only depleting carbonate ions necessary for calcification but also causing acidosis and disrupting internal pH homeostasis in several marine organisms. These negative consequences of OA on marine communities, particularly to shellfish oyster species, has been very well documented in recent studies, however, the consequences of these reduced or impaired calcification processes on the end-product, shells or skeletons, still remains one of the major research gaps. Shells produced by marine organisms under OA are expected to be corroded with disorganized or impaired crystal orientation or microstructures with reduced mechanical property. To bridge this knowledge gap and to test the above hypothesis, we investigated the effect of OA on shell of the commercially important oyster species (Crassostrea angulata) at ecologically and climatically relevant OA levels (using pH 8.1, 7.8, 7.5, 7.2 as proxies). In decreased pH conditions, a drop of shell hardness and stiffness was revealed by nanoindentation tests, while an evident loosened internal microstructure was detected by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). In contrary, the crystallographic orientation of oyster shell showed no significant difference with decreasing pH by Electron Back Scattered Diffraction (EBSD) analyses. These results indicate the loosened internal microstructure may be the cause of the OA induced reduction in shell hardness and stiffness. Micro-computed tomography analysis (Micro-CT) indicated that an overall “down-shifting” of mineral density in the shell with decreasing pH, which implied the loosened internal microstructure may run through the shell, thus inevitably limiting the effectiveness of the shell defensive function. This study surfaces potential bottom-up deterioration induced by OA on oyster shells, especially in their early juvenile life stage. This knowledge is critical to forecast the survival and production of edible oysters in future ocean.

Meng Y., Guo Z., Fitzer S. C., Upadhyay A., Chan V. B. S., Li C., Cusack M., Yao H., Yeung K. W. K. & Thiyagarajan V., 2018. Ocean acidification reduces mechanical properties of the Portuguese oyster shell with impaired microstructure: a hierarchical analysis. Biogeosciences Discussions. doi: 10.5194/bg-2018-204. Article.

 

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