Effects of salinity and pH of seawater on the reproduction of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus

Fertilization and early development are usually the most vulnerable stages in the life of marine animals, and the biological processes during this period are highly sensitive to the environment. In nature, sea urchin gametes are shed in seawater, where they undergo external fertilization and embryonic development. In a laboratory, it is possible to follow the exact morphological and biochemical changes taking place in the fertilized eggs and the developing embryos. Thus, observation of successful fertilization and the subsequent embryonic development of sea urchin eggs can be used as a convenient biosensor to assess the quality of the marine environment. In this paper, we have examined how salinity and pH changes affect the normal fertilization process and the following development of Paracentrotus lividus. The results of our studies using confocal microscopy, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and time-lapse Ca2+ image recording indicated that both dilution and acidification of seawater have subtle but detrimental effects on many aspects of the fertilization process. They include Ca2+ signaling and coordinated actin cytoskeletal changes, leading to a significantly reduced rate of successful fertilization and, eventually, to abnormal or delayed embryonic development.

Limatola N., Chun J. T. & Santella L., in press. Effects of salinity and pH of seawater on the reproduction of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus. The Biological Bulletin. Article (subscription required).

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