Decreased pH impairs sea urchin resistance to predatory fish: a combined laboratory-field study to understand the fate of top-down processes in future oceans

Highlights

  • Combined laboratory-field approach to study OA effects on predator-prey interactions.

  • Adult sea urchins mechanical defence strategies are compromised by decreased pH.

  • Field data confirm grater vulnerability to predation of sea urchins exposed to lower pH.

  • Future more acidic seawaters will impair sea urchin resistance to predatory fish.

Abstract

Changing oceans represent a serious threat for a wide range of marine organisms, with severe cascading effects on ecosystems and their services. Sea urchins are particularly sensitive to decreased pH expected for the end of the century and their key ecological role in regulating community structure and functioning could be seriously compromised. An integrated approach of laboratory and field experiments has been implemented to investigate the effects of decreased pH on predator-prey interaction involving sea urchins and their predators. Our results suggest that under future Ocean Acidification scenarios adult sea urchins defence strategies, such as spine length, test robustness and oral plate thickness, could be compromised together with their survival chance to natural predators. Sea urchins represent the critical linkage between top-down and bottom-up processes along Mediterranean rocky reefs, and the cumulative impacts of global and local stressors could lead to a decline producing cascading effects on benthic ecosystems.

Asnaghi V., Chindris A., Leggieri F., Scolamacchia M., Brundu G., Guala I., Loi B., Chiantore M. & Farina S., in press. Decreased pH impairs sea urchin resistance to predatory fish: a combined laboratory-field study to understand the fate of top-down processes in future oceans. Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).

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