The neurobiology of ocean change – insights from decapod crustaceans


  • Climate change causes substantial ocean warming, acidification, and oxygen depletion.
  • Decapod crustaceans live in areas strongly affected by climate change.
  • Little is known about the responses of their nervous systems to climate change.
  • Data indicate surprising robustness against some stressors, but sensitivity to others.
  • We call for research efforts towards cross-species comparisons of neuronal physiology.


The unprecedented rate of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere has led to increased warming, acidification and oxygen depletion in the world’s oceans, with projected impacts also on ocean salinity. In this perspective article, we highlight potential impacts of these factors on neuronal responses in decapod crustaceans. Decapod crustaceans comprise more than 8,800 marine species which have colonized a wide range of habitats that are particularly affected by global ocean change, including estuarine, intertidal, and coastal areas. Many decapod species have large economic value and high ecological importance because of their global invasive potential and impact on local ecosystems. Global warming has already led to considerable changes in decapod species’ behavior and habitat range. Relatively little is known about how the decapod nervous system, which is the ultimate driver of all behaviors, copes with environmental stressors. We use select examples to summarize current findings and evaluate the impact of current and expected environmental changes. While data indicate a surprising robustness against stressors like temperature and pH, we find that only a handful of species have been studied and long-term effects on neuronal activity remain mostly unknown. A further conclusion is that the combined effects of multiple stressors are understudied. We call for greater research efforts towards long-term effects on neuronal physiology and expansion of cross-species comparisons to address these issues.

Stein W. & Harzsch S., in press. The neurobiology of ocean change – insights from decapod crustaceans. Zoology. Article (subscription required).

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