Recalibrating the significance of the decline effect in fish ocean acidification research

The recently described decline effect in ocean acidification impacts on fish behaviour should not be equated with negligible effects. Here, existing mechanistic data are used to argue for continued research and cautions against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

The past few years have seen a seismic shift in the scientific consensus of ocean acidification and its impacts on fishes, particularly the adverse effects on behaviour. Foundational early work on coral reef fishes detailed olfactory disturbances that left fish unable to detect or discriminate predator cues and necessary habitat settlement cues—both of which were held up as potentially serious consequences of ocean acidification that may threaten global fish populations [1]. A decade later, Clark and colleagues published a rigorous follow-up that questioned the reproducibility of the early work on fish behaviour [2], and while several design aspects were disputed [3], the prevailing opinions on the behavioural effects of ocean acidification on fishes began to change. The recently published meta-analysis by Clements and colleagues [4] reinforced this shift by demonstrating a decline in effect size response ratios over time in studies exploring the impacts of ocean acidification on fish behaviour. The authors argued that ocean acidification has negligible effects on fish behaviour. More alarming was the determination that a University investigative panel concluded that a prominent author of the early ocean acidification studies committed scientific misconduct in the form of data fabrication and falsification [5]. This has led to one retraction of a high-impact work on coral reef fishes, although as of this writing, no ocean acidification papers have been retracted nor any expressions of concern been issued. Nonetheless, guilt by association has coloured the field of ocean acidification and fish behaviour. Despite all of this, I would urge the scientific community to remember the classic idiom and not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

Esbaugh A. J., 2023. Recalibrating the significance of the decline effect in fish ocean acidification research. PLoS Biology 21(5): e3002113. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002113. Article.

  • Reset


OA-ICC Highlights

%d bloggers like this: