Ocean acidification modifies behaviour of shelf seabed macrofauna: a laboratory study on two ecosystem engineers, Abra alba and Lanice conchilega

The feeding activity and burrow ventilation by benthic invertebrates importantly affect the biodiversity and functioning of seafloor sediments. Here we investigated how ocean acidification can modify these behavioural activities in two common and abundant macrofaunal ecosystem engineering species in temperate continental shelf communities: the white furrow shell Abra alba and the sand mason Lanice conchilega. Using time-lapse imagery and sediment porewater hydraulic signatures we show that both species adapt their behaviour in response to predicted future pH conditions (−0.3 units). During a three-week laboratory experiment, A. alba reduced the duration per feeding event when suspension and deposit feeding (by 86 and 53%, respectively), and almost completely ceased suspension feeding under reduced seawater pH in comparison to ambient seawater pH (pH ∼ 8.2). This behavioural change reduces the intake of low pH water during feeding and respiration. L. conchilega increased its piston-pumping frequency by 30 and 52%, respectively, after one and two weeks of exposure to future pH conditions (−0.3 units) relative to ambient conditions. This change in irrigation activity suggests higher metabolic demands under low seawater pH, and also extended low water column pH conditions deeper into the seafloor. Because the distribution of other populations depends on the physicochemical setting by our focal species, we argue that the demonstrated behavioural plasticity will likely have cascading effects on seafloor diversity and functioning, highlighting the complexity of how ocean acidification, and climate change in general, will affect seafloor ecology.

Vlaminck E., Cepeda E., Moens T. & Van Colen C., 2022. Ocean acidification modifies behaviour of shelf seabed macrofauna: a laboratory study on two ecosystem engineers, Abra alba and Lanice conchilega. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology: 151831. doi: 10.1016/j.jembe.2022.151831. Article (subscription required).

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