Evidence for stage-based larval vulnerability and resilience to acidification in Crassostrea virginica

Using image analysis of scanning electron micrographs (SEMs), we compared differences in growth of D-stage veligers [i.e. prodissoconch I and II (PI and PII) larvae] of eastern oysters Crassostrea virginica grown in mesohaline water under high- and low-CO2 conditions. We found SEMs to reveal no evidence of dissolution or shell structure deformity for larval shells in either of the CO2 treatments but detected prominent growth lines in the PII regions of larval shells. The number of growth lines closely approximated the duration of the experiment, suggesting that growth lines are generated daily. Mean growth line interval widths were 20% greater for larval shells cultured in low- vs high-CO2 conditions. Crassostrea virginica veliger larvae were shown to tolerate high CO2 levels and aragonite saturation states (Ωarag) < 1.0, but larval growth was slowed substantially under these conditions. Differences in growth line interval width translate into substantial changes in shell area and account for previously observed differences in total shell area between the treatments, as determined by light microscopy and image analysis. Other studies have documented high mortality and malformation of D-stage larvae in bivalves when pre-veliger life stages (i.e. eggs, gastrula and trochophores) were exposed to elevated CO2. Our experiments revealed statistical differences in rates of larval survival, settlement and subsequent early-stage spat mortality for veligers reared in high- and low-CO2 conditions. Although each of these rates was measurably affected by high CO2, the magnitude of these differences was small (range across categories = 0.7–6.3%) suggesting that the impacts may not be catastrophic, as implied by several previous studies. We believe the apparent disparity among experimental results may be best explained by differential vulnerability of pre-veliger stage larvae and veligers, whereby PI and PII larvae have greater physiological capacity to withstand environmental conditions that may be thermodynamically unfavourable to calcification (i.e. Ωarag < 1.0).

Whitman Miller A., Reynolds A., Minton M. S. & Smith R., 2020. Evidence for stage-based larval vulnerability and resilience to acidification in Crassostrea virginica. Journal of Molluscan Studies, eyaa022, doi: 10.1093/mollus/eyaa022. Article (subscription required).          

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