Near-future ocean warming and acidification alter foraging behaviour, locomotion, and metabolic rate in a keystone marine mollusc

Environmentally-induced changes in fitness are mediated by direct effects on physiology and behaviour, which are tightly linked. We investigated how predicted ocean warming (OW) and acidification (OA) affect key ecological behaviours (locomotion speed and foraging success) and metabolic rate of a keystone marine mollusc, the sea hare Stylocheilus striatus, a specialist grazer of the toxic cyanobacterium Lyngbya majuscula. We acclimated sea hares to OW and/or OA across three developmental stages (metamorphic, juvenile, and adult) or as adults only, and compare these to sea hares maintained under current-day conditions. Generally, locomotion speed and time to locate food were reduced ~1.5- to 2-fold when the stressors (OW or OA) were experienced in isolation, but reduced ~3-fold when combined. Decision-making was also severely altered, with correct foraging choice nearly 40% lower under combined stressors. Metabolic rate appeared to acclimate to the stressors in isolation, but was significantly elevated under combined stressors. Overall, sea hares that developed under OW and/or OA exhibited a less severe impact, indicating beneficial phenotypic plasticity. Reduced foraging success coupled with increased metabolic demands may impact fitness in this species and highlight potentially large ecological consequences under unabated OW and OA, namely in regulating toxic cyanobacteria blooms on coral reefs.

Horwitz R., Norin T., Watson S.-A., Pistevos J. C. A., Beldade R., Hacquart S., Gattuso J.-P., Rodolfo-Metalpa R., Vidal-Dupiol J., Killen S. S. & Mills S. C., 2020. Near-future ocean warming and acidification alter foraging behaviour, locomotion, and metabolic rate in a keystone marine mollusc. Scientific Reports 10: 5461. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-62304-4. Article.

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