Posts Tagged 'mortality'

Warming, not acidification, favours survival of non-indigenous over native gammarid species

Anthropogenic disturbances, including non-indigenous species (NIS) and climate change, have considerably affected ecosystems and socio-economies globally. Despite the widely acknowledged individual roles of NIS and global warming in biodiversity change, predicting the connection between the two still remains a fundamental challenge and requires urgent attention due to a timely importance for proper conservation management. To improve our understanding of the interaction between climate change and NIS on biological communities, we conducted laboratory experiments to test the temperature and pCO2 tolerance of four gammarid species: two native Baltic Sea species (Gammarus locusta and G. salinus), one Ponto‐Caspian NIS (Pontogammarus maeoticus) and one North American NIS (Gammarus tigrinus). Our results demonstrated that an increase in pCO2 level was not a significant driver of mortality, neither by itself nor in combination with increased temperature, for any of the tested species. However, temperature was significant, and differentially affected the tested species. The most sensitive was the native G. locusta which experienced 100% mortality at 24 °C. The second native species, G. salinus, performed better than G. locusta, but was still significantly more sensitive to temperature increase than either of the NIS. In contrast, NIS performed better than native species with warming, whereby particularly the Ponto-Caspian P. maeoticus did not demonstrate any difference in its performance between the temperature treatments. With the predicted environmental changes in the Baltic Sea, we may expect shifts in distributions of native taxa towards colder areas, while their niches might be filled by NIS, particularly those from the Ponto-Caspian region. Although, northern colder areas may be constrained by lower salinity. Additional studies are needed to confirm our findings across other NIS, habitats and regions to make more general inferences.

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Short-term ocean acidification decreases pulsation and growth of the widespread soft coral Xenia umbellata

Coral reefs may experience lower pH values as a result of ocean acidification (OA), which has negative consequences, particularly for calcifying organisms. Thus far, the effects of this global factor have been mainly investigated on hard corals, while the effects on soft corals remain relatively understudied. We therefore carried out a manipulative aquarium experiment for 21 days to study the response of the widespread pulsating soft coral Xenia umbellata to simulated OA conditions. We gradually decreased the pH from ambient (~8.3) to three consecutive 7-day long pH treatments of 8.0, 7.8, and 7.6, using a CO2 dosing system. Monitored response variables included pulsation rate, specific growth rate, visual coloration, survival, Symbiodiniaceae cell densities and chlorophyll a content, photosynthesis and respiration, and finally stable isotopes of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) as well as CN content. Pulsation decreased compared to controls with each consecutive lowering of the pH, i.e., 17% at pH 8.0, 26% at pH 7.8 and 32% at pH 7.6, accompanied by an initial decrease in growth rates of ~60% at pH 8.0, not decreasing further at lower pH. An 8.3 ‰ decrease of δ13C confirmed that OA exposed colonies had a higher uptake and availability of atmospheric CO2. Coral productivity, i.e., photosynthesis, was not affected by higher dissolved inorganic C availability and none of the remaining response variables showed any significant differences. Our findings suggest that pulsation is a phenotypically plastic mechanism for Xumbellata to adjust to different pH values, resulting in reduced growth rates only, while maintaining high productivity. Consequently, pulsation may allow Xumbellata to inhabit a broad pH range with minimal effects on its overall health. This resilience may contribute to the competitive advantage that soft corals, particularly Xumbellata, have over hard corals.

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The modulating role of natural variability in the biological response to ocean acidification

Ocean acidification (OA) is the consequence of the uptake of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Along the coastal zone, ocean acidification is influenced by other processes such as biology and currents, leading to high levels of natural variability in pH. While the impact of pH on marine organisms is better resolved, the modulating role of this natural variability is poorly understood. This master’s thesis aimed at evaluating diel pH fluctuations using the larval stages of the brittle star Amphiura filiformis. Results revealed the importance of acknowledging pH variations with individuals exhibiting higher fitness. Diel analyses also underscored the existence of an intrinsic circadian cycle where larvae would grow more during the daytime than nighttime, possibly explained by better conditions encountered during the day. In addition, we demonstrated a carryover effect that could also be associated with a stage sensitivity. We suggest that future studies should integrate natural variations and delve into the different species’ adaptations as they have an important role in the biological responses to upcoming OA.

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Complex dynamics of coral gene expression responses to low pH across species

Coral capacity to tolerate low pH affects coral community composition and, ultimately, reef ecosystem function. Low pH submarine discharges (‘Ojo’; Yucatán, México) represent a natural laboratory to study plasticity and acclimatization to low pH in relation to ocean acidification. A previous >2-year coral transplant experiment to ambient and low pH common garden sites revealed differential survivorship across species and sites, providing a framework to compare mechanistic responses to differential pH exposures. Here, we examined gene expression responses of transplants of three species of reef-building corals (Porites astreoidesPorites porites and Siderastrea siderea) and their algal endosymbiont communities (Symbiodiniaceae) originating from low pH (Ojo) and ambient pH native origins (Lagoon or Reef). Transplant pH environment had the greatest effect on gene expression of Porites astreoides hosts and symbionts and P. porites hosts. Host P. astreoides Ojo natives transplanted to ambient pH showed a similar gene expression profile to Lagoon natives remaining in ambient pH, providing evidence of plasticity in response to ambient pH conditions. Although origin had a larger effect on host S. siderea gene expression due to differences in symbiont genera within Reef and Lagoon/Ojo natives, subtle effects of low pH on all origins demonstrated acclimatization potential. All corals responded to low pH by differentially expressing genes related to pH regulation, ion transport, calcification, cell adhesion and stress/immune response. This study demonstrates that the magnitude of coral gene expression responses to pH varies considerably among populations, species and holobionts, which could differentially affect acclimatization to and impacts of ocean acidification.

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Linking physiological effects of environmental stressors from cellular to whole-organismal levels in the early-life history stages of Crassostrea virginica (eastern oyster)

The Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica (Gmelin, 1791), is an ecologically and economically important species that resides in dynamic coastal ecosystems along the East and Gulf coasts of the United States. The success of oyster populations depends on the recruitment of their early life stages, which are especially vulnerable to environmental stress due to high developmental energy demands. As climate change continues, it is necessary to anticipate how the early life stages of the Eastern oyster will respond to environmental stressors under ecologically relevant scenarios. Therefore, the goal of this dissertation was to understand how the early life stages of C. virginica are physiologically affected by multiple global climate change stressors from a holistic perspective by incorporating local environmental data, observations across three life stages (i.e., carryover effects), responses from two important types of Eastern oysters, and physiological metrics from the cellular to whole-organism levels. To achieve this goal, chapter two observes the relative importance of three environmental tolerance mechanisms (selective mortality, carryover effects, and phenotypic plasticity) in shaping the performance of juvenile oysters in response to salinity exposures during the larval stage. Findings from this chapter indicate that typical differences in salinity among successive larval cultures in shellfish hatcheries likely do not impact performance as juveniles; rather, phenotypic plasticity likely underpins juvenile oyster performance as their physiology correlated with environmental conditions during the juvenile phase, not the larval exposures. Chapter three investigates carryover effects in more detail to explore how multiple global climate change stressors, ocean acidification and ocean warming, might affect the physiology of larval C. virginica, if those effects carry over to impact the performance of juvenile oysters and lastly, if those carryover effects change under different future environmental scenarios. Conditions of ocean acidification and ocean warming did affect the larval stage of the Eastern oyster and carry over into the juvenile stage, though these effects were nuanced and context dependent. Specifically, carryover effects from conditions of acidification were more persistent and negative, whereas warming had more fleeting carryover, and cross-tolerant, effects that were generally positive. Continuing to observe the effects of ocean acidification and ocean warming on the Eastern oyster, chapter four compares the larval responses of wild and selectively bred oysters. C. virginica larvae from wild and selectively bred oysters responded differently to conditions of acidification, but not warming. Furthermore, wild oyster larvae may be more resilient in the face of ongoing climate change. Despite exhibiting more lethal and negative effects of acidified conditions early in the larval stage, wild oyster larvae compensated for these earlier negative effects, while larvae from selectively bred oysters began showing signs of stress towards the end of the experiment. Lastly, exploring the development of carryover effects, chapter five observes how conditions of acidification during the settlement stage (i.e., settlement and metamorphosis) carried over to impact the juvenile stage. No detectable carryover effects were found, even though conditions of acidification negatively affected tissue growth at the beginning of the settlement stage. Overall, while Eastern oysters are able to withstand environmental stress to some degree, there were sub-lethal and carryover effects from multiple global climate change stressors identified in this dissertation that could have consequences for both wild and selectively bred populations in the future. The results from this dissertation will support subsequent studies to accurately predict the future success of wild oyster populations (e.g., effects to recruitment) and aquaculture production based on their physiological performances in the face of ongoing climate change.

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Impacts of long-term exposure to ocean acidification and warming on three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) growth and reproduction

The warming and acidification of surface waters as predicted by the IPCC leads aquatic species to face major multifaceted changes in their environment. Although teleosts have efficient regulatory systems to cope with these changes, such changes clearly have the potential to impact their physiological functions. Hence, it is crucial to estimate the ability of teleost fishes to cope with multi-stresses to predict how they will deal with future environments. In this context, we investigated the joint effect of warming and acidification on three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) from the juvenile stage to adulthood, focusing on parameters linked to growth, sexual maturation, and reproduction. Juvenile sticklebacks were split in 2 climate scenarios: a “Current” scenario corresponding to the current seasonal physico-chemical parameters of the water of the “Rade de Brest” in France, and a “RCP8.5” scenario with a warming of 3 °C and an acidification of 0.4 pH units. After 7 months, fish in the RCP8.5 scenario reached the same size and mass as those in the Current scenario, but they needed greater amounts of food to reach satiety. Furthermore, the mortality rate over the experiment was higher in the RCP8.5 scenario. Muscle lipid content, an indicator of energy reserves, was lower in females in the RCP8.5 scenario, suggesting an increased need for energy to maintain homeostasis and other physiological functions or a divergence in energy allocation strategy. Moreover, females exhibited lower sexual maturation and egg quality under the RCP8.5 scenario, which could have contributed to the lower fertilisation rate observed. Males were more resilient to the RCP8.5 scenario, exhibiting only a trend for lower kidney somatic index scores. Altogether, these results suggest a delay and/or an inhibition of gametogenesis and maturation in fish in warmed and acidified waters. The analysis of blood sex steroid concentrations, brain gene expression profiles, and physiological indexes did not allow us to discriminate between a delay and an inhibition of maturation in the RCP8.5 scenario. Overall, these findings clearly indicate that there is a long-term global impact of combined acidification and warming on the mortality and reproductive performance of three-spined stickleback.

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Direct, carryover, and maternal effects of ocean acidification on snow crab embryos and larvae

Ocean acidification, a decrease in ocean pH with increasing anthropogenic CO2 concentrations, is expected to affect many marine animals. To examine the effects of decreased pH on snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio), a commercial species in Alaska, we reared ovigerous females in one of three treatments: Ambient pH (~8.1), pH 7.8, and pH 7.5, through two annual reproductive cycles. Morphometric changes during development and hatching success were measured for embryos both years and calcification was measured for the adult females at the end of the 2-year experiment. Embryos and larvae analyzed in year one were from oocytes developed, fertilized, and extruded in situ, whereas embryos and larvae in year two were from oocytes developed, fertilized, and extruded under acidified conditions in the laboratory. In both years, larvae were exposed to the same pH treatments in a fully crossed experimental design. Starvation-survival, morphology, condition, and calcium/magnesium content were assessed for larvae. Embryo morphology during development, hatching success, and fecundity were unaffected by pH during both years. Percent calcium in adult females’ carapaces did not differ among treatments at the end of the experiment. In the first year, starvation-survival of larvae reared at Ambient pH but hatched from embryos reared at reduced pH was lowered; however, the negative effect was eliminated when the larvae were reared at reduced pH. In the second year, there was no direct effect of either embryo or larval pH treatment, but larvae reared as embryos at reduced pH survived longer if reared at reduced pH. Treatment either did not affect other measured larval parameters, or effect sizes were small. The results from this two-year study suggest that snow crabs are well adapted to projected ocean pH levels within the next two centuries, although other life-history stages still need to be examined for sensitivity and potential interactive effects with increasing temperatures should be investigated.

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Combination of RNAseq and RADseq to identify physiological and adaptive responses to acidification in the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica)

Ocean acidification (OA) is a major stressor threatening marine calcifiers, including the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica). In this paper, we provide insight into the molecular mechanisms associated with resilience to OA, with the dual intentions of probing both acclimation and adaptation potential in this species. C. virginica were spawned, and larvae were reared in control or acidified conditions immediately after fertilization. RNA samples were collected from larvae and juveniles, and DNA samples were collected from juveniles after undergoing OA-induced mortality and used to contrast gene expression (RNAseq) and SNP (ddRADseq) profiles from animals reared under both conditions. Results showed convergence of evidence from both approaches, particularly in genes involved in biomineralization that displayed significant changes in variant frequencies and gene expression levels among juveniles that survived acidification as compared to controls. Downregulated genes were related to immune processes, supporting previous studies demonstrating a reduction in immunity from exposure to OA. Acclimation to OA via regulation of gene expression might confer short-term resilience to immediate threats; however, the costs may not be sustainable, underscoring the importance of selection of resilient genotypes. Here, we identified SNPs associated with survival under OA conditions, suggesting that this commercially and ecologically important species might have the genetic variation needed for adaptation to future acidification. The identification of genetic features associated with OA resilience is a highly-needed step for the development of marker-assisted selection of oyster stocks for aquaculture and restoration activities.

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The impact of ocean acidification and cadmium toxicity in the marine crab Scylla serrata: biological indices and oxidative stress responses


  • Growth, food index, ALP, and heamocytes of crabs were decreased in OA + Cd exposure.
  • Antioxidants and metabolic enzymes were elevated in crabs under OA + Cd treatments.
  • Bioaccumulation of Cd was more in crabs subjected to OA + Cd.
  • OA + Cd interaction was higher on growth, protein, amino acid, and heamocytes of crabs.


Ocean acidification (OA) and heavy metals pollution in marine environments are potentially threatening marine life. The interactive effect of OA and heavy metals could be more vulnerable to marine organisms than individual exposures. In the current study, the effect of OA on the toxicity of cadmium (Cd) in the crab Scylla serrata was evaluated. Crab instars (0.07 cm length and 0.1 g weight) were subjected to pH 8.2, 7.8, 7.6, 7.4, 7.2, and 7.0 with and without 0.01 mg l−1 of Cd for 60 days. We notice a significant decrease in growth, molting, protein, carbohydrate, amino acid, lipid, alkaline phosphatase, and haemocytes of crabs under OA + Cd compared to OA treatment. In contrast, the growth, protein, amino acid, and haemocyte levels were significantly affected by OA, Cd, and its interactions (OA + Cd). However, superoxide dismutase, catalase, lipid peroxidation, glutamic oxaloacetate transaminase, glutamic pyruvate transaminase, and accumulation of Cd in crabs were considerably elevated in OA + Cd treatments compared to OA alone treatments. The present investigation showed that the effect of Cd toxicity might be raised under OA on S. serrata. Our study demonstrated that ocean acidification significantly affects the biological indices and oxidative stress responses of S. serrata exposed to Cd toxicity.

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Oyster reefs’ control of carbonate chemistry—Implications for oyster reef restoration in estuaries subject to coastal ocean acidification

Globally, oyster reef restoration is one of the most widely applied coastal restoration interventions. While reefs are focal points of processes tightly linked to the carbonate system such as shell formation and respiration, how these processes alter reef carbonate chemistry relative to the surrounding seawater is unclear. Moreover, coastal systems are increasingly impacted by coastal acidification, which may affect reef carbonate chemistry. Here, we characterized the growth of multiple constructed reefs as well as summer variations in pH and carbonate chemistry of reef-influenced seawater (in the middle of reefs) and ambient seawater (at locations ~50 m outside of reefs) to determine how reef chemistry was altered by the reef community and, in turn, impacts resident oysters. High frequency monitoring across three subtidal constructed reefs revealed reductions of daily mean and minimum pH (by 0.05–0.07 and 0.07–0.12 units, respectively) in seawater overlying reefs relative to ambient seawater (p < .0001). The proportion of pH measurements below 7.5, a threshold shown to negatively impact post-larval oysters, were 1.8×–5.2× higher in reef seawater relative to ambient seawater. Most reef seawater samples (83%) were reduced in total alkalinity relative to ambient seawater samples, suggesting community calcification was a key driver of modified carbonate chemistry. The net metabolic influence of the reef community resulted in reductions of CaCO3 saturation state in 78% of discrete samples, and juvenile oysters placed on reefs exhibited slower shell growth (p < .05) compared to oysters placed outside of reefs. While differences in survival were not detected, reef oysters may benefit from enhanced survival or recruitment at the cost of slowed growth rates. Nevertheless, subtidal restored reef communities modified seawater carbonate chemistry in ways that likely increased oyster vulnerability to acidification, suggesting that carbonate chemistry dynamics warrant consideration when determining site suitability for oyster restoration, particularly under continued climate change.

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Life-stage specificity and cross-generational climate effects on the microbiome of a tropical sea urchin (Echinodermata: Echinoidea)

Microbes play a critical role in the development and health of marine invertebrates, though microbial dynamics across life stages and host generations remain poorly understood in most reef species, especially in the context of climate change. Here, we use a 4-year multigenerational experiment to explore microbe–host interactions under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)-forecast climate scenarios in the rock-boring tropical urchin Echinometra sp. A. Adult urchins (F0) were exposed for 18 months to increased temperature and pCO2 levels predicted for years 2050 and 2100 under RCP 8.5, a period which encompassed spawning. After rearing F1 offspring for a further 2 years, spawning was induced, and F2 larvae were raised under current day and 2100 conditions. Cross-generational climate effects were also explored in the microbiome of F1 offspring through a transplant experiment. Using 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis, we determined that each life stage and generation was associated with a distinct microbiome, with higher microbial diversity observed in juveniles compared to larval stages. Although life-stage specificity was conserved under climate conditions projected for 2050 and 2100, we observed changes in the urchin microbial community structure within life stages. Furthermore, we detected a climate-mediated parental effect when juveniles were transplanted among climate treatments, with the parental climate treatment influencing the offspring microbiome. Our findings reveal a potential for cross-generational impacts of climate change on the microbiome of a tropical invertebrate species.

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Ocean acidification reduces thallus strength in a non-calcifying foundation seaweed

Climate change is causing unprecedented changes in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems through the emission of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (CO2). Approximately 30% of CO2 is taken up by the ocean (‘ocean acidification’, OA)1, which has profound effects on foundation seaweed species. Negative physical effects on calcifying algae are clear2, but studies on habitat-forming fleshy seaweeds have mainly focused on growth and less on thallus strength3,4. We exposed the habitat-forming brown seaweed Fucus vesiculosus to OA corresponding to projected climate change effects for the year 2100, and observed reduced apical thallus strength and greater loss of exposed individuals in the field. The tissue contained less calcium and magnesium, both of which are important for creating structural alginate matrices. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) revealed tissue voids in the OA samples that were not present in seaweeds grown under ambient pCO2. We conclude that under OA, weakened F. vesiculosus will be at a significantly higher risk of physical damage and detachment.

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Long-term coral microbial community acclimatization is associated with coral survival in a changing climate

The plasticity of some coral-associated microbial communities under stressors like warming and ocean acidification suggests the microbiome has a role in the acclimatization of corals to future ocean conditions. Here, we evaluated the acclimatization potential of coral-associated microbial communities of four Hawaiian coral species (Porites compressaPorites lobataMontipora capitata, and Pocillopora acuta) over 22-month mesocosm experiment. The corals were exposed to one of four treatments: control, ocean acidification, ocean warming, or combined future ocean conditions. Over the 22-month study, 33–67% of corals died or experienced a loss of most live tissue coverage in the ocean warming and future ocean treatments while only 0–10% died in the ocean acidification and control. Among the survivors, coral-associated microbial communities responded to the chronic future ocean treatment in one of two ways: (1) microbial communities differed between the control and future ocean treatment, suggesting the potential capacity for acclimatization, or (2) microbial communities did not significantly differ between the control and future ocean treatment. The first strategy was observed in both Porites species and was associated with higher survivorship compared to Mcapitata and Pacuta which exhibited the second strategy. Interestingly, the microbial community responses to chronic stressors were independent of coral physiology. These findings indicate acclimatization of microbial communities may confer resilience in some species of corals to chronic warming associated with climate change. However, Mcapitata genets that survived the future ocean treatment hosted significantly different microbial communities from those that died, suggesting the microbial communities of the survivors conferred some resilience. Thus, even among coral species with inflexible microbial communities, some individuals may already be tolerant to future ocean conditions. These findings suggest that coral-associated microbial communities could play an important role in the persistence of some corals and underlie climate change-driven shifts in coral community composition.

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Hidden impacts of climate change on biological responses of marine life

Conflicting results remain on how climate change affects the biological performance of different marine taxa, hindering our capacity to predict the future state of marine ecosystems. Using a novel meta-analytical approach, we tested for directional changes and deviations across biological responses of fish and invertebrates from exposure to warming (OW), acidification (OA), and their combination. In addition to the established effects of climate change on calcification, survival and metabolism, we found deviations in the physiology, reproduction, behavior, and development of fish and invertebrates, resulting in a doubling of responses significantly affected when compared to directional changes. Widespread deviations of responses were detected even under moderate (IPCC RCP6-level) OW and OA for 2100, while directional changes were mostly limited to more severe (RCP 8.5) exposures. Because such deviations may result in ecological shifts impacting ecosystem structure and processes, our results suggest that OW and OA will likely have stronger impacts than those previously predicted based on directional changes alone.

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Early life physiological and energetic responses of Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia) toocean acidification, warming, and hypoxia

Global environmental change caused by human actions is making the oceans warmer, deoxygenating coastal waters, and causing acidification through dissolution of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). Understanding physiological mechanisms of fish responses to multiple co-occurring stressors is critical to conservation of marine ecosystems and the fish populations they support. In this dissertation I quantified physiological impacts of near-future levels of multiple stressors in the early life stages of the Atlantic silverside, Menidia menidia. In Chapter 1, I measured routine metabolic rates of embryos and larvae reared in combinations of temperature, CO2, and oxygen levels. An interactive effect of acidification and hypoxia in embryos prompted closer examination in Chapter 2, in which I characterized the relationship between metabolism and acute hypoxia in M. menidia offspring reared in different CO2 levels. In Chapter 3 I examined the density of skin surface ionocytes, cells used for acid-base balance, as an early life mechanism of high CO2 tolerance. The first three chapters highlighted how different CO2 effects could be depending on temperature, oxygen levels, and life stage. They also showed variable, but often high, tolerance of CO2 with stronger effects of temperature and hypoxia on physiology. Finally, in Chapter 4 I used a Dynamic Energy Budget model to identify the processes of energetic allocation responsible for previously observed experimental hypoxia effects on M. menidia hatching, growth, and survival. Energy budget modeling can enhance knowledge about stressor responses by providing the information to link organismal traits to life history and populations, making it more readily applicable to conservation and management. The findings presented here provide a foundation for a more comprehensive understanding of the highly variable effects of global change on M. menidia and should be applied to quantifying impacts on fitness and population growth in this ecologically important species.

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Elucidating the mechanisms of stress tolerance in reef-building coral holobionts

Coral reefs worldwide are threatened by climate change effects like increasing ocean warming and ocean acidification. These increased pressures cause a dysbiosis between the coral host, algal endosymbionts, and associated coral microbiome that results in the coral host expelling algal endosymbionts, leaving the coral host with a stark white ‘bleached’ appearance. Without their endosymbionts, coral hosts are forced to sustain themselves energetically with heterotrophy instead of relying on the autotrophic carbon and energy sources that once came from the algal endosymbionts. When this response, termed ‘coral bleaching’, happens reef-wide during an extreme wave of increased ocean temperatures, this is called a mass Coral Bleaching Event. The frequency and intensity of mass Coral Bleaching events are increasing around the world, forcing corals to acclimatize to survive. This dissertation investigates the physiological and genomic mechanisms underlying acclimatization and increased stress tolerance in two common, reef-building corals: Montipora capitata and Pocillopora acuta. In three chapters, I present findings that support phenotypic plasticity and increased stress tolerance in M. capitata and hypothesize the mechanisms contributing to this. In Chapter 1, I conducted an ex-situ experiment that mimicked an environmentally realistic, extended heatwave and ocean acidification scenario in a factorial design of increased temperature and increased pCO2 conditions for a two-month stress period and a two-month recovery period. Both species’ physiological states were significantly challenged but M. capitata displayed a more favorable photosynthetic rate to antioxidant capacity ratio and associated with more thermally tolerant symbionts. Although M. capitata survived at higher rates than P. acuta, physiological state was still significantly impacted after two months of recovery, suggesting that marine heatwaves likely induce physiological legacies that may impact performance during the next, inevitable heatwave. In Chapter 2, I further investigated P. acuta’s stress response from Chapter 1 at a genomic level. We sought to test the effects of environmental stressors on gene body DNA methylation patterns to elucidate how environmentally sensitive and dynamic DNA methylation changes are in invertebrates. However, when analyzing gene expression data, our team found that polyploidy was prevalent in our samples, which convoluted our ability to test environmental effect in addition to polyploidy structure. We found that DNA methylation patterns followed polyploidy genetic lineage with diploid corals exhibiting the highest levels of DNA methylation despite lower gene expression levels of epigenetic machinery proteins. Despite significant DNA methylation pattern differences between polyploidies, P. acuta populations still severely declined in increased stress conditions (outlined in Chapter 1), suggesting that regardless of differential gene body methylation and ploidy status, this species may be ultimately too sensitive to future ocean conditions. In Chapter 3, I further investigated the genomic mechanisms underlying stress response in Montipora capitata, by directly comparing bleached (‘Susceptible’) and non-bleached (‘Resistant’) phenotypes of conspecific pairs. We found very little genetic diversity among our samples suggesting there is no effect of genetic structure on phenotypic variation in this context. ‘Resistant’ corals were characterized by association with more thermally tolerant symbionts, lower gene expression variability, higher gene body methylation levels on genes involved in death and stress response, and a more robust cellular stress response. The results of all three chapters suggest that both physiological and genomic stats impact bleaching susceptibility and phenotype and that not one mechanism may act alone to produce a particular phenotype. This dissertation aids in elucidating the mechanisms of stress response in reef-building corals, ultimately guiding our current knowledge of phenotypic variation in the face of climate change.

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Simultaneous warming and acidification limit population fitness and reveal phenotype costs for a marine copepod

Phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary adaptation allow populations to cope with global change, but limits and costs to adaptation under multiple stressors are insufficiently understood. We reared a foundational copepod species, Acartia hudsonica, under ambient (AM), ocean warming (OW), ocean acidification (OA), and combined ocean warming and acidification (OWA) conditions for 11 generations (approx. 1 year) and measured population fitness (net reproductive rate) derived from six life-history traits (egg production, hatching success, survival, development time, body size and sex ratio). Copepods under OW and OWA exhibited an initial approximately 40% fitness decline relative to AM, but fully recovered within four generations, consistent with an adaptive response and demonstrating synergy between stressors. At generation 11, however, fitness was approximately 24% lower for OWA compared with the AM lineage, consistent with the cost of producing OWA-adapted phenotypes. Fitness of the OWA lineage was not affected by reversal to AM or low food environments, indicating sustained phenotypic plasticity. These results mimic those of a congener, Acartia tonsa, while additionally suggesting that synergistic effects of simultaneous stressors exert costs that limit fitness recovery but can sustain plasticity. Thus, even when closely related species experience similar stressors, species-specific costs shape their unique adaptive responses.

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Differential reaction norms to ocean acidification in two oyster species from contrasting habitats

Ocean acidification (OA), a consequence of the increase in anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, causes major changes in the chemistry of carbonates in the ocean with deleterious effects on calcifying organisms. The pH/pCO2 range to which species are exposed in nature is important to consider when interpreting the response of coastal organisms to OA. In this context, emerging approaches, which assess the reaction norms of organisms to a wide pH gradient, are improving our understanding of tolerance thresholds and acclimation potential to OA. In this study, we decipher the reaction norms of two oyster species living in contrasting habitats: the intertidal oyster Crassostrea gigas and the subtidal flat oyster Ostrea edulis, which are two economically and ecologically valuable species in temperate ecosystems. Six-month-old oysters of each species were exposed in common garden for 48 days to a pH gradient ranging from 7.7 to 6.4 (total scale). Both species are tolerant down to a pH of 6.6 with high plasticity in fitness-related traits such as survival and growth. However, oysters undergo remodelling of membrane fatty acids to cope with decreasing pH along with shell bleaching impairing shell integrity and consequently animal fitness. Finally, our work reveals species-specific physiological responses and highlights that intertidal C. gigas seems to have a better acclimation potential to rapid and extreme OA changes than O. edulis. Overall, our study provides important data about the phenotypic plasticity and its limits in two oyster species, which is essential for assessing the challenges posed to marine organisms by OA.

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Response of foraminifera Ammonia confertitesta (T6) to ocean acidification, warming, and deoxygenation – an experimental approach

Ocean acidification, warmer temperatures, and the expansion of hypoxic zones in coastal areas are direct consequences of the increase in anthropogenic activities. However, so far, the combined effects of these stressors on calcium carbonate-secreting marine microorganisms – foraminifera are complex and poorly understood. This study reports the foraminiferal survival behavior, and geochemical trace elements incorporation measured from the shells of living cultured benthic foraminifera from the Gullmar fjord (Sweden) after exposure to warming, acidification, and hypoxic conditions. An experimental set-up was designed with two different temperatures (fjord’s in-situ 9 ˚C and 14 ˚C), two different oxygen concentrations (oxic versus hypoxic), and three different pH (control, medium, and low pH based on the IPCC scenario for the year 2100). Duplicate aquariums, meaning aquariums displaying the same conditions and same number of species, were employed for the controls and the two lower pH conditions at both temperatures. The stability of the aquariums was ensured by regular measurement of the water parameters and confirmed by statistical analysis. The species Ammonia confertitesta’s (T6) survival (CTB-labeled), shell calcification (calcein-labeled), and geochemical analyses (laser-ablation ICP-MS) were investigated at the end of the experimental period (48 days). Investigated trace elements (TE) ratios were Mg/Ca, Mn/Ca, Ba/Ca, and Sr/ Ca. Results show that A. confertitesta (T6) calcified chambers in all the experimental conditions except for the most severe combination of stressors (i.e., warm, hypoxic, low pH). Survival rates varied by up to a factor of two between duplicates for all conditions suggesting that foraminiferal response may not solely be driven by environmental conditions but also by internal or confounding factors (e.g., physiological stress). A large variability of all the TE/Ca values of foraminifera growing at low pH is observed suggesting that A. confertitesta (T6) may struggle to calcify in these conditions. Thus, this study demonstrates the vulnerability of a resilient species to the triple-stressor scenario in terms of survival, calcification, and trace element incorporation. Overall, the experimental set-up yielded coherent results compared to previous studies in terms of ontogeny, trace elements ratios, and partition coefficient making it advantageous for environmental reconstructions. 

Continue reading ‘Response of foraminifera Ammonia confertitesta (T6) to ocean acidification, warming, and deoxygenation – an experimental approach’

Experimental ocean acidification and food limitation reveals altered energy budgets and synergistic effects on mortality of larvae of a coastal fish

Ocean acidification (OA) presents a unique challenge to early life stages of marine species. Developing organisms must balance the need to grow rapidly with the energetic demands of maintaining homeostasis. The small sizes of early life stages can make them highly sensitive to changes in environmental CO2 levels, but studies have found wide variation in responses to OA. Thus far most OA studies have manipulated CO2 only, and modifying factors need to be considered in greater detail. We investigated the effects of high pCO2 and food ration on rates of growth and mortality of a coastal fish, the California Grunion (Leuresthes tenuis). We also examined how CO2 and food levels affected feeding success, metabolic rate, and swimming activity – processes reflective of energy acquisition and expenditure. In general, exposure to high CO2 decreased energy intake by reducing feeding success, and increased energy expenditure by increasing metabolic rate and routine swimming speed, though the magnitudes of these effects varied somewhat with age. Despite these changes in energetics, growth of biomass was not affected significantly by pCO2 level but was reduced by low ration level, and we did not detect an interactive effect of food ration and pCO2 on growth. However, under OA conditions, larvae were in poorer condition (as evaluated by the mass to length ratio) by the end of the experiment and our analysis of mortality revealed a significant interaction in which the effects of OA were more lethal when food energy was limited. These results are consistent with the idea that although energy can be reallocated to preserve biomass growth, increased energetic demand under ocean acidification may draw energy away from maintenance, including those processes that foster homeostasis during development. Overall, these results highlight both the need to consider the availability of food energy as a force governing species’ responses to ocean acidification and the need to explicitly consider the energy allocated to both growth and maintenance as climate changes.

Continue reading ‘Experimental ocean acidification and food limitation reveals altered energy budgets and synergistic effects on mortality of larvae of a coastal fish’

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