A regional vulnerability assessment for the Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) to changing ocean conditions: insights from model projections and empirical experiments

Among global coastal regions, the Northern California Current System (N-CCS) is already experiencing effects from ocean acidification and hypoxia during the summer, primarily due to the region’s seasonal upwelling, current systems, and high productivity. Oxygen, pH, and temperature conditions are expected to become more stressful with continued fossil fuel emissions under global climate change, posing a serious threat to the region’s fisheries. N-CCS fishing communities rely heavily on the economically and culturally important Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister). The fishery is currently sustainably managed, but potential negative impacts from changing ocean conditions on Dungeness crab life stages and populations could have adverse effects for the fishery and the communities that rely on it. To quantify the vulnerability of Dungeness crab life stages and populations to predicted future conditions, both model projections and empirical experiments need to be employed. A semi-quantitative, life stage-specific framework was adapted here to assess the vulnerability of Dungeness crab to low pH, low dissolved oxygen, and high temperature under present and future projected conditions in the seasonally dynamic N-CCS. This was achieved using a combination of regional ocean models, species distribution maps, larval transport models, a population matrix model, and a literature review. This multi-faceted approach revealed that crab vulnerability to the three climate stressors will increase in the future (year 2100) under the most intense emissions scenario, with vulnerability to low oxygen being the most severe to the N-CCS population overall. Increases in vulnerability were largely driven by the adult life stage, which contributes the most to population growth. Empirical experiments demonstrated that adult crab respiration rates increase exponentially with temperature, potentially making this life stage more susceptible to hypoxia in the future. Together, this work provides novel insights into the effects of changing ocean conditions on Dungeness crab populations, which may help inform fishery management strategies.

Berger H., 2020. A regional vulnerability assessment for the Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) to changing ocean conditions: insights from model projections and empirical experiments. MSc thesis, University of Conneticut. Thesis (restricted access).

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