Thicker shells compensate extensive dissolution in brachiopods under future ocean acidification

Organisms with long generation times require phenotypic plasticity to survive in changing environments until genetic adaptation can be achieved. Marine calcifiers are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification due to dissolution and a reduction in shell-building carbonate ions. Long-term experiments assess organisms’ abilities to acclimatise or even adapt to environmental change. Here we present an unexpected compensatory response to extensive shell dissolution in a highly calcium-carbonate-dependent organism after long-term culture in predicted end-century acidification and warming conditions. Substantial shell dissolution with decreasing pH posed a threat to both a polar (Liothyrella uva) and a temperate (Calloria inconspicua) brachiopod after 7 months and 3 months exposure, respectively, with more extensive dissolution in the polar species. This impact was reflected in decreased outer primary layer thickness in the polar brachiopod. A compensatory response of increasing inner secondary layer thickness, and thereby producing a thicker shell was exhibited by the polar species. Less extensive dissolution in the temperate brachiopod did not affect shell thickness. Increased temperature did not impact shell dissolution or thickness. Brachiopod ability to produce a thicker shell when extensive shell dissolution occurs suggests this marine calcifier has great plasticity in calcification providing insights into how similar species might cope under future environmental change.

Cross E., Harper E. M. & Peck L. S., in press. Thicker shells compensate extensive dissolution in brachiopods under future ocean acidification. Environmental Science and Technology. Article (subscription required).

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