An experimental evaluation of the sensitivity of coastal marine fishes to acidification, hypoxia, and warming

Ocean acidification (OA) during the coming century will impact marine ecosystems in profound ways. Laboratory studies have played a pioneering role in identifying biological vulnerabilities and have documented deleterious effects in taxonomically diverse fauna. The early life-stages of marine fish may be particularly sensitive to OA, thereby constituting a global threat to some of the world’s most important marine resources. Despite the rapid accumulation of experimental evidence, considerable uncertainty remains in estimating the scope of OA impacts. To date, most studies have relied on relatively short-term exposures to estimate effects of elevated pCO, while few have considered longer term OA effect across multiple life-stages. Additionally, while single-factor CO2 experiments are a necessary first step in identifying OA sensitivities, there is a growing understanding that OA will proceed concurrently with warming and deoxygenation, yet multi-stressor factorial experiments remain rare. Furthermore, meta-analyses of existing research have highlighted the large, and thus far unexplained variability in OA responses among taxa and populations. One promising mechanism which could explain this variability involves the role of local adaptation to existing pCO2fluctuations that characterizes marine habitats to different degrees. This framework remains untested in fish. The primary goal of this dissertation was to apply state-of-the-art experimental techniques to address the aforementioned knowledge gaps. By using two ecological important forage species, the Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia) and Northern sand lance (Ammodytes dubius) with contrasting life-history characteristics, this dissertation provides novel insights into potential near-future climate impacts on fish. Chapter 1 summarizes a long-term OA experiment on M. menidia finding that elevated pCO2 exposure resulted in small but significant reductions in offspring size and condition factor. Chapter 2 tested CO2 × temperature effects in M. menidia offspring and found complex growth and survival responses. Chapter 3 reports on CO2 × temperature trials on offspring of A. dubius and documented precipitous reductions to survival and growth. Chapter 4 describes two CO2 × dissolved oxygen trials on M. menidia offspring that demonstrated a negative synergistic effect on embryonic survival. Together, this dissertation provides much needed baseline data and novel insights into climate effects in forage fish.

Murray C. S., 2019. An experimental evaluation of the sensitivity of coastal marine fishes to acidification, hypoxia, and warming. PhD, University of Connecticut – Storrs. Thesis (restricted access).

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