Biogeography of ocean acidification: differential field performance of transplanted mussels to upwelling-driven variation in carbonate chemistry

Ocean acidification (OA) represents a serious challenge to marine ecosystems. Laboratory studies addressing OA indicate broadly negative effects for marine organisms, particularly those relying on calcification processes. Growing evidence also suggests OA combined with other environmental stressors may be even more deleterious. Scaling these laboratory studies to ecological performance in the field, where environmental heterogeneity may mediate responses, is a critical next step toward understanding OA impacts on natural communities. We leveraged an upwelling-driven pH mosaic along the California Current System to deconstruct the relative influences of pH, ocean temperature, and food availability on seasonal growth, condition and shell thickness of the ecologically dominant intertidal mussel Mytilus californianus. In 2011 and 2012, ecological performance of adult mussels from local and commonly sourced populations was measured at 8 rocky intertidal sites between central Oregon and southern California. Sites coincided with a large-scale network of intertidal pH sensors, allowing comparisons among pH and other environmental stressors. Adult California mussel growth and size varied latitudinally among sites and inter-annually, and mean shell thickness index and shell weight growth were reduced with low pH. Surprisingly, shell length growth and the ratio of tissue to shell weight were enhanced, not diminished as expected, by low pH. In contrast, and as expected, shell weight growth and shell thickness were both diminished by low pH, consistent with the idea that OA exposure can compromise shell-dependent defenses against predators or wave forces. We also found that adult mussel shell weight growth and relative tissue mass were negatively associated with increased pH variability. Including local pH conditions with previously documented influences of ocean temperature, food availability, aerial exposure, and origin site enhanced the explanatory power of models describing observed performance differences. Responses of local mussel populations differed from those of a common source population suggesting mussel performance partially depended on genetic or persistent phenotypic differences. In light of prior research showing deleterious effects of low pH on larval mussels, our results suggest a life history transition leading to greater resilience in at least some performance metrics to ocean acidification by adult California mussels. Our data also demonstrate “hot” (more extreme) and “cold” (less extreme) spots in both mussel responses and environmental conditions, a pattern that may enable mitigation approaches in response to future changes in climate.

Rose J. M., Blanchette C. A., Chan F., Gouhier T. C., Raimondi P. T., Sanford E. & Menge B. A., 2020. Biogeography of ocean acidification: differential field performance of transplanted mussels to upwelling-driven variation in carbonate chemistry. PLoS ONE 15(7): e0234075. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234075. Article.

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