Posts Tagged 'fish'

The power struggle: assessing interacting global change stressors via experimental studies on sharks

Ocean warming and acidification act concurrently on marine ectotherms with the potential for detrimental, synergistic effects; yet, effects of these stressors remain understudied in large predatory fishes, including sharks. We tested for behavioural and physiological responses of blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) neonates to climate change relevant changes in temperature (28 and 31 °C) and carbon dioxide partial pressures (pCO2; 650 and 1050 µatm) using a fully factorial design. Behavioural assays (lateralisation, activity level) were conducted upon 7–13 days of acclimation, and physiological assays (hypoxia tolerance, oxygen uptake rates, acid–base and haematological status) were conducted upon 14–17 days of acclimation. Haematocrit was higher in sharks acclimated to 31 °C than to 28 °C. Significant treatment effects were also detected for blood lactate and minimum oxygen uptake rate; although, these observations were not supported by adequate statistical power. Inter-individual variability was considerable for all measured traits, except for haematocrit. Moving forward, studies on similarly ‘hard-to-study’ species may account for large inter-individual variability by increasing replication, testing larger, yet ecologically relevant, differences in temperature and pCO2, and reducing measurement error. Robust experimental studies on elasmobranchs are critical to meaningfully assess the threat of global change stressors in these data-deficient species.

Continue reading ‘The power struggle: assessing interacting global change stressors via experimental studies on sharks’

Ideas and perspectives: when ocean acidification experiments are not the same, reproducibility is not tested

Can experimental studies on the impacts of ocean acidification be trusted? That question was raised in early 2020 when a high-profile paper failed to corroborate previously-observed impacts of high CO2 on the behavior of coral reef fish. New information on the methodologies used in the replicated studies now provides the explanation: the experimental conditions were substantially different. High sensitivity to test conditions is characteristic of ocean acidification research; such response variability shows that effects are complex, interacting with many other factors. Open-minded assessment of all research results, both negative and positive, remains the best way to develop process-based understanding of those responses. Whilst replication studies can provide valuable insights and challenges, they can unfortunately also be counter-productive to scientific advancement if carried out in a spirit of confrontation rather than collaboration.

Continue reading ‘Ideas and perspectives: when ocean acidification experiments are not the same, reproducibility is not tested’

Evidences on alterations in skeleton composition and mineralization in a site-attached fish under naturally acidified conditions in a shallow CO2 vent


  • CO2 vents provide natural laboratories to study the effects of multiple pressures (i.e., ocean acidification and metal contamination).
  • The demersal and highly territorial fish species Gobius bucchichi did not show skeletal malformations in the vent site.
  • Higher Ca/P in fish skeleton at the vent than at control pH sites suggests that skeleton maturation may be sped up in acidified oceans.



Ocean acidification may affect fish mineralized structures (i.e. otoliths and skeleton).


Here, we compared the elemental composition of muscle and skeleton and the mineral features of skeleton in the site-attached fish Gobius bucchichi naturally exposed to high pCO2 / low pH conditions in a shallow CO2 vent with fish of the same species exposed to normal pH.


Overall, no skeleton malformations were found in both pH conditions, but among-site differences were found in the elemental composition. Interestingly, higher Ca/P values, inducing a moderate skeleton maturation, were found in fish exposed to acidified conditions than in controls.


Our findings suggest that ocean acidification may play a significant role in physiological processes related to mineralization, fostering skeleton pre-aging.

Continue reading ‘Evidences on alterations in skeleton composition and mineralization in a site-attached fish under naturally acidified conditions in a shallow CO2 vent’

Extracellular multi-unit recording from the olfactory nerve of teleosts

Recent studies have shown that ocean acidification affects olfactory-driven behavior in fish. This may be due in part to a reduction in olfactory sensitivity in high PCO2/low pH water. To assess the effects of ocean acidification, or olfactory sensitivity in marine fish in general, we propose that extracellular multi-unit recording from the olfactory nerve is the method of choice. Although invasive, it is sensitive, robust, reproducible and independent of external salinity (unlike the electro-olfactogram [EOG], for example). Furthermore, it records a primary sensory input into the CNS, prior to any central processing. We show that this method can show a reduction in olfactory sensitivity that is both temporary and odorant-dependent, using a range of amino acids to construct concentration-response curves and calculate the thresholds of detection.

Continue reading ‘Extracellular multi-unit recording from the olfactory nerve of teleosts’

Reply to: Methods matter in repeating ocean acidification studies

Replying to P. L. Munday et al. Nature (2020)

Pioneering papers by Munday and colleagues1,2 have reported profound effects of end-of-century ocean acidification—simulated by experimentally elevated CO2 levels in seawater—on the behaviour of coral reef fishes, such as extreme attraction of prey species to the chemical cues of their predators. Later studies by the same group reported that a range of other behaviours of coral reef fishes, including swimming activity, behavioural lateralization, homing and different predator avoidance behaviours, were also impaired by ocean acidification3 and that predator-escape behaviours in a coral reef mollusc were also impaired through the same physiological mechanism reported for fishes (that is, through effects on ‘GABAA-like receptors’), which led to the idea that “elevated-CO2 could cause behavioural impairment in a broad suite of marine animals”4. In 2014, we initiated experiments to further explore the physiological mechanism(s) that impaired coral reef fish behaviour in elevated levels of CO2; however, we immediately ran into a problem: despite several attempts, and many improvements to the standard methodology used in this field, we were unable to observe an effect of ocean acidification on fish behaviour. Our initial goal changed from what was meant to be a series of original experiments into a three-year effort to transparently examine behavioural effects of ocean acidification in coral reef fishes5; the findings of our study are the basis for the accompanying Comment by Munday et al.6.

Continue reading ‘Reply to: Methods matter in repeating ocean acidification studies’

Methods matter in repeating ocean acidification studies

Arising from T. D. Clark et al. Nature (2020)

In their study, Clark et al.1 suggest that previous studies on the effects of elevated levels of CO2 on the behaviour of coral reef fishes are not repeatable and that ocean acidification does not impair the behaviour of coral reef fishes, even though six significant behavioural effects were detected in their study, each of which was dismissed for a different reason. They then compare the means and variances of six previous ocean acidification studies in fish with a data distribution that is derived from a multi-species compilation of their own data to conclude that the results of previous studies are statistically improbable. However, Clark et al.1 did not closely repeat previous studies, as they did not replicate key species, used different life stages and ecological histories and changed methods in important ways that reduce the likelihood of detecting the effects of ocean acidification.

Continue reading ‘Methods matter in repeating ocean acidification studies’

Lack of oxidative damage on temperate juvenile catsharks after a long-term ocean acidification exposure

Ocean acidification is a consequence of chemical changes driven mainly by a continuous uptake of carbon dioxide, resulting in pH decrease. This phenomenon represents an additional threat to marine life, with expected effects ranging from changes in behavioral responses and calcification rates to the potential promotion of oxidative stress. To unravel the impacts of ocean acidification on the antioxidant system of sharks, we performed a long-term exposure (9 months, since early embryogenesis) to high CO2 conditions (pCO2 ~ 900 μatm) on a temperate shark (Scyliorhinus canicula). The following biomarkers were measured: enzymatic antioxidant defense (superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase), protein repair and removal (heat shock proteins and ubiquitin), and oxidative damage on lipids (malondialdehyde) and DNA (8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine). Changes in the antioxidant enzyme defense were restricted to an increase in catalase activity in the muscle, an enzyme that plays a major role in oxidative stress mitigation. On the other hand, no evidence of oxidative damage was found, indicating that the observed increase in catalase activity may be enough to neutralize the effects of potentially higher reactive oxygen species. These results further indicate that these sharks’ antioxidant system can successfully cope with the levels of carbon dioxide projected for the end of the century. Nonetheless, the interaction between ocean acidification and the rise in temperature expected to occur in a near future may disturb their antioxidant capacity, requiring further investigation.

Continue reading ‘Lack of oxidative damage on temperate juvenile catsharks after a long-term ocean acidification exposure’

Ocean acidification impedes gustation-mediated feeding behavior by disrupting gustatory signal transduction in the black sea bream, Acanthopagrus schlegelii


  • Gustation-mediated feeding behavior of sea bream was significantly affected by OA.

  • Neurotransmitter levels and the expression of key genes were suppressed by OA.

  • OA hinders feeding of sea bream by obstructing gustatory signal transduction.


Growing evidence suggests that ocean acidification (OA) may affect animal behaviors such as feeding. Although gustation plays a crucial role in evaluating the quality and palatability of food and ultimately influences whether or not teleosts consume the food, the potential impact of OA on gustation-mediated feeding behavior remains unknown. In this study, gustation mediated-feeding behavior, as indicated by the consumption rate (CR) and swallowing rate (SR) of agar pellets with or without feed upon OA exposure was investigated in black sea bream (Acanthopagrus schlegelii). Results showed that the exposure to acidified seawater led to significant reductions in the CR and SR of feed-containing agar pellets. In addition, the in vivo contents of three neurotransmitters and expression of genes from the gustatory signal transduction pathway were all significantly suppressed by the OA treatment. In general, the data obtained indicated that OA may hinder the gustation-mediated feeding behavior of A. schlegelii by disrupting gustatory signal transduction, which may aggravate the issue of food shortage for wild populations of black sea bream.

Continue reading ‘Ocean acidification impedes gustation-mediated feeding behavior by disrupting gustatory signal transduction in the black sea bream, Acanthopagrus schlegelii’

Combining mesocosms with models to unravel the effects of global warming and ocean acidification on temperate marine ecosystems

Ocean warming and species exploitation have already caused large-scale reorganization of biological communities across the world. Accurate projections of future biodiversity change require a comprehensive understanding of how entire communities respond to global change. We combined a time-dynamic integrated food web modelling approach (Ecosim) with a community-level mesocosm experiment to determine the independent and combined effects of ocean warming and acidification, and fisheries exploitation, on a temperate coastal ecosystem. The mesocosm enabled important physiological and behavioural responses to climate stressors to be projected for trophic levels ranging from primary producers to top predators, including sharks. We show that under current-day rates of exploitation, warming and ocean acidification will benefit most species in higher trophic levels (e.g. mammals, birds, demersal finfish) in their current climate ranges, with the exception of small pelagic fish, but these benefits will be reduced or lost when these physical stressors co-occur. We show that increases in exploitation will, in most instances, suppress any positive effects of human-driven climate change, causing individual species biomass to decrease at high-trophic levels. Species diversity at the trailing edges of species distributions is likely to decline in the face of ocean warming, acidification and exploitation. We showcase how multi-level mesocosm food web experiments can be used to directly inform dynamic food web models, enabling the ecological processes that drive the responses of marine ecosystems to scenarios of global change to be captured in model projections and their individual and combined effects to be teased apart. Our approach for blending theoretical and empirical results from mesocosm experiments with computational models will provide resource managers and conservation biologists with improved tools for forecasting biodiversity change and altered ecosystem processes due to climate change.

Continue reading ‘Combining mesocosms with models to unravel the effects of global warming and ocean acidification on temperate marine ecosystems’

Physiological resilience of pink salmon to naturally occurring ocean acidification

Pacific salmon stocks are in decline with climate change named as a contributing factor. The North Pacific coast of British Columbia is characterized by strong temporal and spatial heterogeneity in ocean conditions with upwelling events elevating CO2 levels up to 10-fold those of pre-industrial global averages. Early life stages of pink salmon have been shown to be affected by these CO2 levels, and juveniles naturally migrate through regions of high CO2 during the energetically costly phase of smoltification. To investigate the physiological response of out-migrating wild juvenile pink salmon to these naturally occurring elevated CO2 levels, we captured fish in Georgia Strait, British Columbia and transported them to a marine lab (Hakai Institute, Quadra Island) where fish were exposed to one of three CO2 levels (850, 1500 and 2000 μatm CO2) for 2 weeks. At ½, 1 and 2 weeks of exposure, we measured their weight and length to calculate condition factor (Fulton’s K), as well as haematocrit and plasma [Cl]. At each of these times, two additional stressors were imposed (hypoxia and temperature) to provide further insight into their physiological condition. Juvenile pink salmon were largely robust to elevated CO2 concentrations up to 2000 μatm CO2, with no mortality or change in condition factor over the 2-week exposure duration. After 1 week of exposure, temperature and hypoxia tolerance were significantly reduced in high CO2, an effect that did not persist to 2 weeks of exposure. Haematocrit was increased by 20% after 2 weeks in the CO2 treatments relative to the initial measurements, while plasma [Cl] was not significantly different. Taken together, these data indicate that juvenile pink salmon are quite resilient to naturally occurring high CO2 levels during their ocean outmigration.

Continue reading ‘Physiological resilience of pink salmon to naturally occurring ocean acidification’

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

OUP book