Does seawater acidification affect zooxanthellae density and health in the invasive upside‐down jellyfish, Cassiopea spp.?

Ocean acidification is the decline in seawater pH that results from the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Decreased pH has negative effects on survivability, growth, and development in many marine calcifiers, potentially resulting in reduced coral species richness. This reduction in richness could open new niche space, allowing the spread of invasive species, such as the upside‐down jellyfish (Cassiopea spp.). Like corals, this jellyfish forms symbiotic relationships with zooxanthellae, photosynthetic dinoflagellates. This study focused on the effect of seawater acidification in Cassiopea spp. We monitored zooxanthellae density and two measures of health (bell diameter and volume) in individuals of Cassiopea sp. at three pH levels chosen to mimic different open‐ocean average conditions: 8.2, representing pre‐industrial revolution conditions; and 7.9 and 7.6, representing predicted declines in pH in the next century. Zooxanthellae density and health of the jellyfish were measured twice—prior to experimental manipulations and after four weeks of exposure to experimental pHs—in three consecutive trials. The effects of pH and Trial on proportional change in jellyfish attributes were analyzed using generalized linear mixed models. We found no significant effects of either factor. These results indicate that decreasing seawater pH has no apparent negative effect on zooxanthellae density or health in Cassiopea, which suggests that these jellyfish may be relatively insensitive to the impacts of ocean acidification, heightening its potential as an invasive species.

Weeks C., Meagher S., Willink P. & McCravy K. W., in press. Does seawater acidification affect zooxanthellae density and health in the invasive upside‐down jellyfish, Cassiopea spp.?. Invertebrate Biology. Article (subscription required).

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