Selective breeding could help oysters adapt to ocean acidification, researcher says

The oceans are growing more acidic as they absorb carbon pollution, making it harder for oysters to form shells.


For many seafood lovers, there’s nothing better than a raw oyster bar. But oysters are threatened by ocean acidification.

As carbon pollution increases in the atmosphere, it’s also absorbed by the ocean. That changes the chemistry of seawater. It makes it more acidic and reduces the amount of carbonate ions in the water, hindering the growth of oysters.

“They produce calcium carbon shells. So when you limit the carbonate available, this limits their ability to grow the calcium carbonate shells,” says Susan Fitzer, a research fellow at the University of Stirling in the UK.

Her research suggests one way that may help oyster farmers adapt.

Fitzer recently studied Sydney rock oysters that had been selectively bred in Australia for fast growth and disease resistance.

She found that the oysters were also more resilient to acidification because they used a different mechanism to build their shells.

“Under ocean acidification, you do see smaller oysters and thinner shells,” she says. “But with these selectively bred oysters … what they were able to do is maintain shell growth.”

So she says selective breeding may be one way to help farmers grow healthy oysters despite ocean acidification.

Yale Climate Connections. 18 December 2020. Article and audio.

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book