Posts Tagged 'echinoderms'

The effect of ocean acidification on the enzyme activity of Apostichopus japonicus


  • The long-time impact of ocean acidification on enzyme activity of sea cucumbers were studied.
  • The significant difference of enzyme assemblage existed among three experimental groups by the multivariate statistical results.
  • The acidic environment has a great effect on immune process by influencing the elimination of reactive oxygen species (ROS).


The influence of ocean acidification (OA) is particularly significant on calcifying organisms. The sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus is an important cultured calcifying organism in the northern China seas. Little was known about the effects of OA on this economically important species. In this study, individuals from embryo to juveniles stage of A. japonicus, cultured in different levels of acidified seawater, were measured their enzymes activities, including five metabolic enzymes and three immune enzymes. The activity of acid phosphatase (ACP) and alkaline phosphatase (ALP) was significantly lower in the severely acid group (pH 7.1), while the content of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) was significantly higher. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase (CAT) were significantly lower in the severely acid group. The multivariate statistical results showed that the significant difference of enzyme assemblage existed among three experimental groups. This study indicated that OA could reduce the biomineralization capacity, influence the anaerobic metabolism and severely affect the immune process of A. japonicas. More researches are needed in the future to reveal the mechanisms of enzyme regulation and expression of A. japonicas underlying mixture environmental stress.

Continue reading ‘The effect of ocean acidification on the enzyme activity of Apostichopus japonicus’

Predicting potential impacts of ocean acidification on marine calcifiers from the Southern Ocean

Understanding the vulnerability of marine calcifiers to ocean acidification is a critical issue, especially in the Southern Ocean (SO), which is likely to be the one of the first, and most severely affected regions. Since the industrial revolution, ~30% of anthropogenic CO2 has been absorbed by the oceans. Seawater pH levels have already decreased by 0.1 and are predicted to decline by ~ 0.3 by the year 2100. This process, known as ocean acidification (OA), is shallowing the saturation horizon, which is the depth below which calcium carbonate (CaCO3) dissolves, likely increasing the vulnerability of many marine calcifiers to dissolution. The negative impact of OA may be seen first in species depositing more soluble CaCO3 mineral phases such as aragonite and high-Mg calcite (HMC). These negative effects may become even exacerbated by increasing sea temperatures. Here we combine a review and a quantitative meta-analysis to provide an overview of the current state of knowledge about skeletal mineralogy of major taxonomic groups of SO marine calcifiers and to make predictions about how OA might affect different taxa. We consider their geographic range, skeletal mineralogy, biological traits and potential strategies to overcome OA. The meta-analysis of studies investigating the effects of the OA on a range of biological responses such as shell state, development and growth rate shows response variation depending on mineralogical composition. Species-specific responses due to mineralogical composition suggest taxa with calcitic, aragonitic and HMC skeletons may be more vulnerable to the expected carbonate chemistry alterations, and low magnesium calcite (LMC) species may be mostly resilient. Environmental and biological control on the calcification process and/or Mg content in calcite, biological traits and physiological processes are also expected to influence species specific responses.

Continue reading ‘Predicting potential impacts of ocean acidification on marine calcifiers from the Southern Ocean’

Diffusive boundary layers and ocean acidification: implications for sea urchin settlement and growth

Chemical changes in the diffusive boundary layer (DBL) generated by photosynthesising macroalgae are expected to play an important role in modulating the effects of ocean acidification (OA), but little is known about the effects on early life stages of marine invertebrates in modified DBLs. Larvae that settle to macroalgal surfaces and remain within the DBL will experience pH conditions markedly different from the bulk seawater. We investigated the interactive effects of seawater pH and DBL thickness on settlement and early post-settlement growth of the sea urchin Pseudechinus huttoni, testing whether coralline-algal DBLs act as an environmental buffer to OA. DBL thickness and pH levels (estimated from well-established relationships with oxygen concentration) above the crustose coralline algal surfaces varied with light availability (with photosynthesis increasing pH to as high as pH 9.0 and respiration reducing pH to as low as pH 7.4 under light and dark conditions, respectively), independent of bulk seawater pH (7.5, 7.7, and 8.1). Settlement success of P. huttoni increased over time for all treatments, irrespective of estimated pH in the DBL. Juvenile test growth was similar in all DBL manipulations, showing resilience to variable and low seawater pH. Spine development, however, displayed greater variance with spine growth being negatively affected by reduced seawater pH in the DBL only in the dark treatments. Scanning electron microscopy revealed no observable differences in structural integrity or morphology of the sea urchin spines among pH treatments. Our results suggest that early juvenile stages of P. huttoni are well adapted to variable pH regimes in the DBL of macroalgae across a range of bulk seawater pH treatments.

Continue reading ‘Diffusive boundary layers and ocean acidification: implications for sea urchin settlement and growth’

Current and future trophic interactions in tropical shallow-reef lagoon habitats

Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) sediments are the dominant form of CaCO3 on coral reefs accumulating in lagoon and inter-reefal areas. Owing to their mineralogy and a range of physical parameters, tropical CaCO3 sediments are predicted to be more sensitive to dissolution driven by ocean acidification than the skeleton of living reef organisms. How this scales up to impact infaunal organisms, which are an important food source for higher trophic levels, and thereby ecosystem functioning, is not well explored. We combined seasonal field surveys in a shallow-reef lagoon ecosystem on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, with stable isotope analyses and a tank-based experiment to examine the potential top-down influence of the deposit-feeding sea cucumber, Stichopus herrmanni, on this infaunal community under current and future ocean pH. Densities of surface-sediment meiofauna were lowest in winter and spring, with harpacticoid copepods (38%) and nematodes (27%) the dominant taxa. Stable isotope analyses showed that S. herrmanni had a top-down influence on meiofauna and microphytes with a distinct δ13C and δ15N trophic position that was homogenous across seasons and locations. Tanks that mimicked sandy shallow-reef lagoon habitats were used to examine the effects of ocean acidification (elevated pCO2) on this trophic interaction. We used outdoor control (sediment only) and experimental (sediment plus S. herrmanni) tanks maintained at present-day and near-future pCO2 (+ 570 µatm) for 24 days, which fluctuated with the diel pCO2 cycle. In sediment-only tanks, copepods were > twofold more abundant at elevated pCO2, with no negative effects documented for any meiofauna group. When included in the community, top-down control by S. herrmanni counteracted the positive effects of low pH on meiofaunal abundance. We highlight a novel perspective in coral reef trophodynamics between surface-sediment meiofauna and deposit-feeding sea cucumbers, and posit that community shifts may occur in shallow-reef lagoon habitats in a future ocean with implications for the functioning of coral reefs from the bottom up.

Continue reading ‘Current and future trophic interactions in tropical shallow-reef lagoon habitats’

Temperature affects the reproductive outputs of coral-eating starfish Acanthaster spp. after adult exposure to near-future ocean warming and acidification


  • It is possible to keep adult COTS in modified conditions for several months with minimal losses.

  • The natural peak of reproduction for COTS in New Caledonia is around the end of the calendar year.

  • A +2 °C warming exposure of 3–4 months have detrimental effects on quality and quantity of COTS eggs along with fertilisation success.

  • During sub-optimal spawning season, COTS fertilisation success drops by 3-fold for animals exposed to elevated temperature.


Outbreaks of the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster spp. (COTS) have become to be amongst the most severe threats to coral reefs worldwide. Although most research has focused on COTS early development, it remains unclear how COTS populations will keep pace with changing ocean conditions. Since reproduction is a key process contributing to outbreaks, we investigated the reproductive success of adult COTS acclimated for 3–4 months to different treatment combinations of ambient conditions, ocean warming (+2 °C) and acidification (−0.35 pH). Our results suggest that the optimal breeding season in New Caledonia is concentrated around the end of the calendar year, when water temperature reaches >26 °C. We found negative effects of temperature on egg metrics, fertilisation success, and GSI, conflicting with previously documented effects of temperature on echinoderm reproductive outputs. Fertilisation success dropped drastically (more than threefold) with elevated temperature during the late breeding season. In contrast, we detected no effects of near-future acidification conditions on fertilisation success nor GSI. This is the first time that COTS reproduction is compared among individuals acclimated to different conditions of warming and acidification. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for adult exposure to better understand how COTS reproduction may be impacted in the face of global change.

Continue reading ‘Temperature affects the reproductive outputs of coral-eating starfish Acanthaster spp. after adult exposure to near-future ocean warming and acidification’

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


  • 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.


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.

Continue reading ‘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’

Functionally redundant herbivores: urchin and gastropod grazers respond differently to ocean warming and rising CO2

Future ocean CO2 and temperatures are predicted to increase primary productivity across tropical marine habitats, potentially driving a shift towards algal-dominated systems. However, increased consumption of algae by benthic grazers could potentially counter this shift. Yet, the response of different grazer species to future conditions will be moderated by their physiologies, meaning that they may not be functional equivalents. Here, we experimentally assessed the physiological response of key grazers — the sea urchin Heliocidaris crassispina and 2 gastropod species, Astralium haematragum and Trochus maculatus— to predicted CO2 concentrations (400, 700 and 1000 ppm) and temperature conditions (ambient, +3 and +5°C). In line with metabolic theory, we found that urchin metabolic rate increased at future temperatures regardless of CO2 conditions, with evidence of metabolic acclimation to higher temperatures. The metabolic rate of A. haematragum was depressed only by CO2, whereas T. maculatus /i>initially had elevated metabolic rates at moderate CO2, which were depressed by the combination of the highest CO2 concentration and temperatures. Taxa showed differential survival, with no urchin mortality under any future conditions but substantial mortality of both gastropods under elevated temperatures regardless of CO2 concentration. Importantly, all species had substantially reduced algal consumption in response to elevated CO2, though the urchins only demonstrated an energetic mismatch under combined future CO2 and temperature. Therefore, despite sharing an ecological niche, these key grazers are likely to be differentially affected by future environmental conditions, potentially reducing the strength of eco logical compensatory responses depending on the functional redundancy in this grazing community.

Continue reading ‘Functionally redundant herbivores: urchin and gastropod grazers respond differently to ocean warming and rising CO2’

Remnant kelp bed refugia and future phase-shifts under ocean acidification

Ocean warming, ocean acidification and overfishing are major threats to the structure and function of marine ecosystems. Driven by increasing anthropogenic emissions of CO2, ocean warming is leading to global redistribution of marine biota and altered ecosystem dynamics, while ocean acidification threatens the ability of calcifying marine organisms to form skeletons due to decline in saturation state of carbonate Ω and pH. In Tasmania, the interaction between overfishing of sea urchin predators and rapid ocean warming has caused a phase-shift from productive kelp beds to overgrazed sea urchin barren grounds, however potential impacts of ocean acidification on this system have not been considered despite this threat for marine ecosystems globally. Here we use automated loggers and point measures of pH, spanning kelp beds and barren grounds, to reveal that kelp beds have the capacity to locally ameliorate effects of ocean acidification, via photosynthetic drawdown of CO2, compared to unvegetated barren grounds. Based on meta-analysis of anticipated declines in physiological performance of grazing urchins to decreasing pH and assumptions of nil adaptation, future projection of OA across kelp-barrens transition zones reveals that kelp beds could act as important pH refugia, with urchins potentially becoming increasingly challenged at distances >40 m from kelp beds. Using spatially explicit simulation of physicochemical feedbacks between grazing urchins and their kelp prey, we show a stable mosaicked expression of kelp patches to emerge on barren grounds. Depending on the adaptative capacity of sea urchins, future declines in pH appear poised to further alter phase-shift dynamics for reef communities; thus, assessing change in spatial-patterning of reef-scapes may indicate cascading ecological impacts of ocean acidification.

Continue reading ‘Remnant kelp bed refugia and future phase-shifts under ocean acidification’

Effects of ocean acidification on acid-base physiology, skeleton properties, and metal contamination in two echinoderms from vent sites in Deception Island, Antarctica


  • Acid-base characteristics of adult Antarctic echinoderms are similar to those of tropical and temperate echionderms
  • Skeleton properties of both species were weaker than those of tropical and temperate echinoderms
  • Reduced seawater pH and metals had no impact on the skeleton mechanical properties of the two investigated species
  • Reduced pH was correlated to increased contamination by most metals but this relation was weak


Antarctic surface waters are expected to be the first to experience severe ocean acidification (OA) with carbonate undersaturation and large decreases in pH forecasted before the end of this century. Due to the long stability in environmental conditions and the relatively low daily and seasonal variations to which they are exposed, Antarctic marine organisms, especially those with a supposedly poor machinery to eliminate CO2 and protons and with a heavily calcified skeleton like echinoderms, are hypothesized as highly vulnerable to these environmental shifts. The opportunities offered by the natural pH gradient generated by vent activities in Deception Island caldera, Western Antarctic Peninsula, were used to investigate for the first time the acid-base physiologies, the impact of OA on the skeleton and the impact of pH on metal accumulation in the Antarctic sea star Odontaster validus and sea urchin Sterechinus neumayeri. The two species were sampled in four stations within the caldera, two at pH (total scale) 8.0- 8.1 and two at reduced pH 7.8. Measured variables were pH, alkalinity, and dissolved inorganic carbon of the coelomic fluid; characteristic fracture force, stress and Young’s modulus using Weibull statistics and Cd, Cu, Fe, Pb and Zn concentrations in the integument, gonads and digestive system. Recorded acid-base characteristics of both studied species fit in the general picture deduced from temperate and tropical sea stars and sea urchins but conditions and possibly confounding factors, principally food availability and quality, in the studied stations prevented definitive conclusions. Reduced seawater pH 7.8 and metals had almost no impact on the skeleton mechanical properties of the two investigated species despite very high Cd concentrations in O. validus integument. Reduced pH was correlated to increased contamination by most metals but this relation was weak. Translocation and caging experiments taking into account food parameters are proposed to better understand future processes linked to ocean acidification and metal contamination in Antarctic echinoderms.

Continue reading ‘Effects of ocean acidification on acid-base physiology, skeleton properties, and metal contamination in two echinoderms from vent sites in Deception Island, Antarctica’

Ocean acidification induces distinct transcriptomic responses across life history stages of the sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma

Ocean acidification (OA) from seawater uptake of rising carbon dioxide emissions impairs development in marine invertebrates, particularly in calcifying species. Plasticity in gene expression is thought to mediate many of these physiological effects, but how these responses change across life history stages remains unclear. The abbreviated lecithotrophic development of the sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma provides a valuable opportunity to analyze gene expression responses across a wide range of life history stages, including the benthic, post‐metamorphic juvenile. We measured the transcriptional response to OA in H. erythrogramma at three stages of the life cycle (embryo, larva, and juvenile) in a controlled breeding design. The results reveal a broad range of strikingly stage‐specific impacts of OA on transcription, including changes in the number and identity of affected genes; the magnitude, sign, and variance of their expression response; and the developmental trajectory of expression. The impact of OA on transcription was notably modest in relation to gene expression changes during unperturbed development and much smaller than genetic contributions from parentage. The latter result suggests that natural populations may provide an extensive genetic reservoir of resilience to OA. Taken together, these results highlight the complexity of the molecular response to OA, its substantial life history stage specificity, and the importance of contextualizing the transcriptional response to pH stress in light of normal development and standing genetic variation to better understand the capacity for marine invertebrates to adapt to OA.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification induces distinct transcriptomic responses across life history stages of the sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book