California mussels as bioindicators of ocean acidification

A critical need in California is to develop robust biological indicators that can be used to understand emerging impacts to marine systems arising from human-induced global change. Among the most worrisome environmental stressors are those associated with shifts in the carbonate system of seawater, including reductions in ocean pH and decreased availability of carbonate ions (together termed ‘ocean acidification’). In this study, we explored the utility of employing newly settled California mussels (Mytilus californianus) as a bio-indicator of effects of ocean acidification. Our approach involved a field assessment of the capacity to link patterns of mussel recruitment to climate-related oceanographic drivers, with the additional step of conducting measurements of mussel morphology and body condition to maximize the sensitivity of the bio-indicator. Our results indicate that larval shells retained in mussels that have settled on the shore are smaller in area when larval stages were likely to have been subjected to more acidic (lower-pH) seawater. Similarly, the body condition — a measure of general health — of newly settled juveniles subjected to lower-pH seawater was reduced in cases where those waters were also warm. These findings suggest a strong potential for newly settled California mussels to serve as informative bio-indicators of ocean acidification in California’s coastal waters. Future efforts should pursue additional validation and possible expansion of this methodology, as well as the feasibility of a sustained commitment to sampling newly settled individuals of this species at multiple locations throughout the State.

Gaylord B., Rivest E., Hill T., Sanford E., Shukla P., Ninokawa A. & Ng G., 2018. California mussels as bioindicators of  ocean acidification. California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment, California Natural Resources Agency. Report.

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