Temporal variability modulates pH impact on larval sea urchin development

Coastal organisms reside in highly dynamic habitats. Global climate change is expected to alter not only the mean of the physical conditions experienced but also the frequencies and/or the magnitude of fluctuations of environmental factors. Understanding responses in an ecologically relevant context is essential for formulating management strategies. In particular, there are increasing suggestions that exposure to fluctuations could alleviate the impact of climate change-related stressors by selecting for plasticity that may help acclimatization to future conditions. However, it remains unclear whether the presence of fluctuations alone is sufficient to confer such effects or whether the pattern of the fluctuations matters. Therefore, we investigated the role of frequency and initial conditions of the fluctuations on performance by exposing larval sea urchin Heliocidaris crassispina to either constant or fluctuating pH. Reduced pH alone (pH 7.3 vs 8.0) did not affect larval mortality but reduced the growth of larval arms in the static pH treatments. Changes in morphology could affect the swimming mechanics for these small organisms, and geometric morphometric analysis further suggested an overall shape change such that acidified larvae had more U-shaped bodies and shorter arms, which would help maintain stability in moving water. The relative negative impact of lower pH, computed as log response ratio, on larval arm development was smaller when larvae were exposed to pH fluctuations, especially when the change was less frequent (48- vs 24-h cycle). Furthermore, larvae experiencing an initial pH drop, i.e. those where the cycle started at pH 8.0, were more negatively impacted compared with those kept at an initial pH of 7.3 before the cycling started. Our observations suggest that larval responses to climate change stress could not be easily predicted from mean conditions. Instead, to better predict organismal performance in the future ocean, monitoring and investigation of the role of real-time environmental fluctuations along the dispersive pathway is key.

Chan K. Y. K & Tong C. S. D., 2020. Temporal variability modulates pH impact on larval sea urchin development: Themed issue article: Biomechanics and climate change,. Conservation Physiology 8(1): coaa008. doi:10.1093/conphys/coaa008. Article.

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