Posts Tagged 'performance'

Swimming performance of sharks and rays under climate change

Climate change stressors (e.g., warming and ocean acidification) are an imminent challenge to the physiological performance of marine organisms. Several studies spanning the last decade have reported widespread effects of warming and acidification on marine fishes, especially teleosts, but more work is needed to elucidate the responses in marine elasmobranchs, i.e., sharks and rays. Dispersal capacity, as a result of locomotor performance, is a crucial trait that will determine which group of elasmobranchs will be more or less vulnerable to changes in the environment. In fact, efficient and high locomotor performance may determine the capacity for elasmobranchs to relocate to a more favorable area. In this review we integrate findings from work on locomotion of marine sharks and rays to identify characteristics that outline potential vulnerabilities and strength of sharks and rays under climate change. Traits such as intraspecific variability in response to climatic stressors, wide geographic range, thermotaxis, fast swimming or low energetic costs of locomotion are likely to enhance the capacity to disperse. Future studies may focus on understanding the interacting effect of climatic stressors on morphology, biomechanics and energetics of steady and unsteady swimming, across ontogeny and species.

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Effects of ocean acidification on the early life history processes of the breadcrumb sponge Halichondria panicea

Ocean acidification (OA) is predicted to result in reduced survival, growth, reproduction, and overall biodiversity of marine invertebrates, and yet we lack information about the response to OA of some major groups of marine organisms. In particular, we know relatively little about how OA will impact temperate sponges, which will experience more extreme low pH conditions than tropical species. In this study, we quantified OA-induced changes in early life history patterns (larval mortality and condition, settlement rate, recruit survival, and size) in the non-calcifying breadcrumb sponge Halichondria panicea collected from a temperate intertidal site in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Sponge larvae were exposed to OA conditions for 15 days, and early life history patterns were observed. Compared with baseline (“present”) conditions, larval mortality and settlement rates increased in the acidified treatment (“future”). This effect was restricted to larval stages; treatment had no effect on the growth and survival of recruits. This study is significant in that it shows that H. panicea may be particularly vulnerable to changes in ocean pH during the larval stage, which could ultimately reduce total sponge abundance by diminishing the number of larvae that survive to settlement.

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Symbiont composition and coral genotype determines massive coral species performance under end-of-century climate scenarios

The recent decline of coral health and substantial loss of coral cover along Florida’s Coral Reef (FCR) results from local stressors such as degraded water quality and disease outbreaks in addition to anthropogenically driven global stressors including ocean warming and acidification. Intervention strategies intended for the restoration of degraded reef habitats need a better understanding of the influence of ocean warming and acidification on coral health to target coral species and individual genotypes that may be more resistant or resilient to such stressors. Here, we examined a suite of physiological traits (coral host and algal symbiont) in response to experimentally elevated water temperatures and pCO2 levels, both separately and in concert, using threatened reef-building corals Pseudodiploria clivosa and Orbicella faveolata reared within a land-based coral nursery. After two months of exposure, responses differed by coral species, where P. clivosa showed declined physiology in response to combined ocean warming and acidification stress and ocean warming alone, whereas O. faveolata showed a positive response under ocean acidification. Responses to temperature could be associated with the algal symbionts harbored, as P. clivosa was dominated by the thermally sensitive Breviolum, and O. faveolata was dominated by the thermally tolerant Durusdinium. Additionally, corals were raised in well-sourced seawater that was naturally high in pCO2, which could have led to corals acclimating to acidified conditions. Of the three P. clivosa genets tested, we determined a top-performing genotype under the combined warming and acidification treatment. O. faveolata, however, displayed high genet variation by treatment and phenotypic trait, making genotype performance rankings challenging to discern. The evidence provided in this study demonstrates that high phenotypic variation in nursery-reared corals contributes to variable warming-acidification responses, suggesting that high-standing genetic variation in nursery-reared corals could support diverse coral restoration population outcomes along FCR.

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Ocean acidification, warming and feeding impacts on biomineralization pathways and shell material properties of Magallana gigas and Mytilus spp.


  • Mytilus spp. source environmental carbon into the shell aragonite under low pH.
  • In Mytilus spp. biomineralization pathways differ between calcite and aragonite.
  • M. gigas carbon sourcing remains similar maintaining calcite growth.
  • M. gigas mantle δ15N is lower in low pH reflecting algae nitrogen uptake.
  • Calcite biomineralization pathway differs between the two species under low pH.


Molluscs are among the organisms affected by ocean acidification (OA), relying on carbon for shell biomineralization. Metabolic and environmental sourcing are two pathways potentially affected by OA, but the circumstances and patterns by which they are altered are poorly understood. From previous studies, mollusc shells grown under OA appear smaller in size, brittle and thinner, suggesting an important alteration in carbon sequestration. However, supplementary feeding experiments have shown promising results in offsetting the negative consequences of OA on shell growth. Our study compared carbon uptake by δ13C tracing and deposition into mantle tissue and shell layers in Magallana gigas and Mytilus species, two economically valuable and common species. After subjecting the species to 7.7 pH, +2 °C seawater, and enhanced feeding, both species maintain shell growth and metabolic pathways under OA without benefitting from extra feeding, thus, showing effective acclimation to rapid and short-term environmental change. Mytilus spp. increases metabolic carbon into the calcite and environmental sourcing of carbon into the shell aragonite in low pH and high temperature conditions. Low pH affects M. gigas mantle nitrogen isotopes maintaining growth. Calcite biomineralization pathway differs between the two species and suggests species-specific response to OA.

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The multi-generational effect of seawater acidification on larval development, reproduction, ingestion rate, and ATPase activity of Tigriopus japonicus Mori, 1938

Ocean acidification threatens marine organisms continuously. To ascertain if adaptation of marine species to ocean acidification enhanced over multiple generations, we studied the transgenerational effects of ocean acidification on the development, reproduction, ingestion rate, and ATPase activity of a copepod Tigriopus japonicus Mori, 1938. In the first mode, individuals were exposed to either one of the pH levels (8.1 (control), 7.7, 7.3) for five successive generations. In the second mode, each successive generation was exposed to a lower pH level (pH levels: 8.1, 7.9, 7.7, 7.5, 7.3). After prolonged exposure to a constant seawater acidification level, the capacity to adapt to the stress increased. However, when exposed to seawater of descending pH, the detrimental effects gradually increased. Energy allocated to development and reproduction was reduced although the ingestion rate continued to improve in successive generations. Therefore, ongoing ocean acidification might lower the energy transfer of copepods to higher trophic levels.

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Juvenile Atlantic sea scallop, Placopecten magellanicus, energetic response to increased carbon dioxide and temperature changes

This study assessed the energy budget for juvenile Atlantic Sea Scallop, Placopecten magellanicus, during a natural drop in temperature (15.6°C to 5.8°C) over an 8-week time period during the fall at three different enrichment levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). Every 2 weeks, individuals were sampled for ecophysiological measurements of feeding activity, respiration rate (RR) and excretion rate (ER) to enable the calculation of scope for growth (SFG) and atomic oxygen:nitrogen ratios (O:N). In addition, 36 individuals per treatment were removed for shell height, dry tissue weight (DTW) and dry shell weight (DSW). We found a significant decrease in feeding rates as CO2 increased. Those rates also were significantly affected by temperature, with highest feeding at 9.4°C. No significant CO2 effect was observed for catabolic energy processes (RR and ER); however, these rates did increase significantly with temperature. The O:N ratio was not significantly affected by CO2, but was significantly affected by temperature. There was a significant interaction between CO2 and temperature for ER and the O:N ratio, with low CO2 levels resulting in a U-shaped response that was not sustained as CO2 levels increased. This suggests that the independent effects of CO2 and temperature observed at low levels are different once a CO2 threshold is reached. Additionally, there were significant differences in growth estimators (shell height and DSW), with the best growth occurring at the lowest CO2 level. In contrast to temperature variations that induced a trade-off response in energy acquisition and expenditure, results from this research support the hypothesis that sea scallops have a limited ability to alter physiological processes to compensate for increasing CO2.

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Differential effects of ocean acidification and warming on biological functioning of a predator and prey species may alter future trophic interactions


  • Multiple environmental stressors act upon multiple trophic levels.
  • Mollusc predator and prey respond differently to future climate scenarios.
  • Prey are negatively impacted physiologically and behaviourally.
  • Predators unaffected resulting in elevated predation risk for prey.
  • Potential for fundamental change in trophic interactions affecting biodiversity.


Independently, ocean warming (OW) and acidification (OA) from increased anthropogenic atmospheric carbon dioxide are argued to be two of the greatest threats to marine organisms. Increasingly, their interaction (ocean acidification and warming, OAW) is shown to have wide-ranging consequences to biological functioning, population and community structure, species interactions and ecosystem service provision. Here, using a multi-trophic experiment, we tested the effects of future OAW scenarios on two widespread intertidal species, the blue mussel Mytilus edulis and its predator Nucella lapillus. Results indicate negative consequences of OAW on the growth, feeding and metabolic rate of M. edulis and heightened predation risk. In contrast, Nucella growth and metabolism was unaffected and feeding increased under OAW but declined under OW suggesting OA may offset warming consequences. Should this differential response between the two species to OAW, and specifically greater physiological costs to the prey than its predator come to fruition in the nature, fundamental change in ecosystem structure and functioning could be expected as trophic interactions become disrupted.

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Parental exposure to ocean acidification impacts gamete production and physiology but not offspring performance in Nematostella vectensis

Ocean acidification (OA) resulting from anthropogenic CO2 emissions is impairing the reproduction of marine organisms. While parental exposure to OA can protect offspring via carryover effects, this phenomenon is poorly understood in many marine invertebrate taxa. Here, we examined how parental exposure to acidified (pH 7.40) versus ambient (pH 7.72) seawater influenced reproduction and offspring performance across six gametogenic cycles (13 weeks) in the estuarine sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. Females exhibited reproductive plasticity under acidic conditions, releasing significantly fewer but larger eggs compared to ambient females after four weeks of exposure, and larger eggs in two of the four following spawning cycles despite recovering fecundity, indicating long-term acclimatization and greater investment in eggs. Males showed no changes in fecundity under acidic conditions, but produced a greater percentage of sperm with high mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP; a proxy for elevated motility), which corresponded with higher fertilization rates relative to ambient males. Finally, parental exposure to acidic conditions did not significantly influence offspring development rates, respiration rates, or heat tolerance. Overall, this study demonstrates that parental exposure to acidic conditions impacts gamete production and physiology but not offspring performance in N. vectensis, suggesting that increased investment in individual gametes may promote fitness.

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Similarities in biomass and energy reserves among coral colonies from contrasting reef environments

Coral reefs are declining worldwide, yet some coral populations are better adapted to withstand reductions in pH and the rising frequency of marine heatwaves. The nearshore reef habitats of Palau, Micronesia are a proxy for a future of warmer, more acidic oceans. Coral populations in these habitats can resist, and recover from, episodes of thermal stress better than offshore conspecifics. To explore the physiological basis of this tolerance, we compared tissue biomass (ash-free dry weight cm−2), energy reserves (i.e., protein, total lipid, carbohydrate content), and several important lipid classes in six coral species living in both offshore and nearshore environments. In contrast to expectations, a trend emerged of many nearshore colonies exhibiting lower biomass and energy reserves than colonies from offshore sites, which may be explained by the increased metabolic demand of living in a warmer, acidic, environment. Despite hosting different dinoflagellate symbiont species and having access to contrasting prey abundances, total lipid and lipid class compositions were similar in colonies from each habitat. Ultimately, while the regulation of colony biomass and energy reserves may be influenced by factors, including the identity of the resident symbiont, kind of food consumed, and host genetic attributes, these independent processes converged to a similar homeostatic set point under different environmental conditions.

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Charge-dependent negative effects of polystyrene nanoplastics on Oryzias melastigma under ocean acidification conditions

Graphical abstract.


  • PS-NH2 exhibited more aggregation than PS-COOH in acidified seawater.
  • Ocean acidification reversed toxicity of positively and negatively charged NPs.
  • Ocean acidification reversed the internalization of PS-NH2 and PS-COOH.
  • PS-NPs at environmental level could transfer from embryos to larvae.


Marine nanoplastics (NPs) have attracted increasing global attentions because of their detrimental effects on marine environments. A co-existing major environmental concern is ocean acidification (OA). However, the effects of differentially charged NPs on marine organisms under OA conditions are poorly understood. We therefore investigated the effects of OA on the embryotoxicity of both positively and negatively charged polystyrene (PS) NPs to marine medaka (Oryzias melastigma). Positively charged PS-NH2 exhibited slighter aggregation under normal conditions and more aggregation under OA conditions than negatively charged PS-COOH. According to the integrated biomarker approach, OA reversed the toxicity of positively and negatively charged NPs towards embryos. Importantly, at environmental relevant concentrations, both types of PS-NPs could enter the embryos through chorionic pores and then transfer to the larvae. OA reversed the internalization of PS-NH2 and PS-COOH in O. melastigma. Overall, the reversed toxicity of PS-NH2 and PS-COOH associated with OA could be caused by the reversed bioavailability of NPs to O. melastigma, which was attributed to altered aggregation of the NPs in acidified seawater. This finding demonstrates the charge-dependent toxicity of NPs to marine fish and provides new insights into the potential hazard of NPs to marine environments under OA conditions that could be encountered in the near future.

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GABAergic role in the disruption of wild cleaner fish behaviour under high CO2


  • First study on ocean acidification effects on cleaning behaviour in the wild.
  • Ocean acidification alters some components of natural cleaning behaviour.
  • GABAA receptor modulation is a mechanism responsible for these alterations.


Ocean acidification is considered to affect fish behaviour through the disruption of GABAergic neurotransmission in controlled laboratory conditions, but less is known of the GABAergic role on fish behavioural performance in the wild. Most coral reef fishes engage in complex cleaning interactions, where they benefit from ectoparasite removal and stress relief. Here, we tested whether potential ocean acidification impairment of wild cleaning interactions, between the cleaner fish Labroides dimidiatus and its clients, can be explained by the GABAAR model. We used, the GABAA receptor agonist (muscimol) and antagonist (gabazine) for the first time in the wild and tested their effects on cleaning behaviour in Moorea Island (French Polynesia) to address natural interactions and recovery capacity. After exposure to expected ocean acidification conditions, the proportion of time spent advertising cleaning services, a measure of motivation to interact, dropped significantly relative to controls. Furthermore, the GABAergic antagonist gabazine recovered most CO2-induced behavioural alterations to control levels, consistent with the GABAAR model of altered Cl flux in ocean acidification-exposed fish. However, muscimol treatment only produced the same behavioural alterations found with CO2 exposure in time spent advertising cleaning. Our results support the evidence that ocean acidification alters some components of cleaning behaviour through GABAA receptor modulation with potential cascading effects on coral reef health and structure.

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Implications of salinity and acidic environments on fitness and oxidative stress parameters in early developing seahorses Hippocampus reidi

Simple Summary

The main aim of the present study was to assess the effects of acidification (pH 6.5 vs. pH 8.0) under two salinity conditions (brackish water—BW vs. seawater—SW) on the development and fitness (oxidative stress) of early developing seahorses (Hippocampus reidi). The growth of juveniles reared in BW was impaired at pH 6.5, and the levels of superoxide dismutase and DT-diaphorase, as well as the oxidative stress index, increased compared to SW juveniles. However, survival and growth at pH 6.5 decreased in the former. These results suggest higher overall performance and optimal fitness in juveniles reared in seawater under acidic conditions (pH = 6.5).


Water acidification affects aquatic species, both in natural environmental conditions and in ex situ rearing production systems. The chronic effects of acidic conditions (pH 6.5 vs. pH 8.0) in seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) are not well known, especially when coupled with salinity interaction. This study investigated the implications of pH on the growth and oxidative stress in the seahorse Hippocampus reidi (Ginsburg, 1933), one of the most important seahorse species in the ornamental trade. Two trials were carried out in juveniles (0–21 and 21–50 DAR—days after the male’s pouch release) reared under acid (6.5) and control (8.0) pH, both in brackish water (BW—salinity 11) and seawater (SW—salinity 33). In the first trial (0–21 DAR), there was no effect of pH on the growth of seahorses reared in SW, but the survival rate was higher for juveniles raised in SW at pH 6.5. However, the growth and survival of juveniles reared in BW were impaired at pH 6.5. Compared to SW conditions, the levels of superoxide dismutase and DT-diaphorase, as well as the oxidative stress index, increased for juveniles reared in BW. In the second trial, seahorse juveniles were reared in SW at pH 8.0, and subsequently kept for four weeks (from 21 to 50 DAR) at pH 6.5 and 8.0. The final survival rates and condition index were similar in both treatments. However, the growth under acidic conditions was higher than at pH 8.0. In conclusion, this study highlights that survival, growth, and oxidative status condition was enhanced in seahorse juveniles reared in SW under acidic conditions (pH = 6.5). The concurrent conditions of acidic pH (6.5) and BW should be avoided due to harmful effects on the fitness and development of seahorse juveniles.

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Biological responses of the predatory blue crab and its hard clam prey to ocean acidification and low salinity

How ocean acidification (OA) interacts with other stressors is understudied, particularly for predators and prey. We assessed long-term exposure to decreased pH and low salinity on (1) juvenile blue crab Callinectes sapidus claw pinch force, (2) juvenile hard clam Mercenaria mercenaria survival, growth, and shell structure, and (3) blue crab and hard clam interactions in filmed mesocosm trials. In 2018 and 2019, we held crabs and clams from the Chesapeake Bay, USA, in crossed pH (low: 7.0, high: 8.0) and salinity (low: 15, high: 30) treatments for 11 and 10 wk, respectively. Afterwards, we assessed crab claw pinch force and clam survival, growth, shell structure, and ridge rugosity. Claw pinch force increased with size in both years but weakened in low pH. Clam growth was negative, indicative of shell dissolution, in low pH in both years compared to the control. Growth was also negative in the 2019 high-pH/low-salinity treatment. Clam survival in both years was lowest in the low-pH/low-salinity treatment and highest in the high-pH/high-salinity treatment. Shell damage and ridge rugosity (indicative of deterioration) were intensified under low pH and negatively correlated with clam survival. Overall, clams were more severely affected by both stressors than crabs. In the filmed predator-prey interactions, pH did not substantially alter crab behavior, but crabs spent more time eating and burying in high-salinity treatments and more time moving in low-salinity treatments. Given the complex effects of pH and salinity on blue crabs and hard clams, projections about climate change on predator-prey interactions will be difficult and must consider multiple stressors.

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Reanalysis shows there is not an extreme decline effect in fish ocean acidification studies

Clements and colleagues [1] claim there is an extreme decline effect in studies published between 2009 and 2019 on the impacts of ocean acidification (OA) on fish behaviour, with the modelled average effect size declining from >5 in 2009 to 2010 to <0.5 after 2015. Here, I show that the extreme decline effect reported by Clements and colleagues is a statistical artifact caused by the way they corrected for zero values in percentage data, which was more common in the earliest experiments compared with later studies. Furthermore, selective choices for excluding or including data, along with data compilation errors and missing studies with strong effects, weakened the effect sizes reported for papers after 2010, further exacerbating the decline effect reported by Clements and colleagues. When the data is reanalysed using appropriate corrections for zeros in percentage and proportional data and using a complete, corrected, and properly screened data set, the extreme decline effect reported by Clements and colleagues no longer exists (Fig 1A and 1B). Instead, there is a more gentle and consistent decline in effect size magnitude through time, from a modelled average <3 in 2009 to 2010 (Fig 1C) and remaining well above zero in 2018 to 2019 (Fig 1D).

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Ocean acidification affects the bioenergetics of marine mussels as revealed by high-coverage quantitative metabolomics

Graphical abstract.


  • The metabolic response of mussels to acidification was evaluated.
  • Acidification decreased energy storage and increased energy demands.
  • Acidification affected amino acid metabolism and biosynthesis.
  • Carry-over effects of acidification on cellular energy allocation were observed.


Ocean acidification has become a major ecological and environmental problem in the world, whereas the impact mechanism of ocean acidification in marine bivalves is not fully understood. Cellular energy allocation (CEA) approach and high-coverage metabolomic techniques were used to investigate the acidification effects on the energy metabolism of mussels. The thick shell mussels Mytilus coruscus were exposed to seawater pH 8.1 (control) and pH 7.7 (acidification) for 14 days and allowed to recover at pH 8.1 for 7 days. The levels of carbohydrates, lipids and proteins significantly decreased in the digestive glands of the mussels exposed to acidification. The 14-day acidification exposure increased the energy demands of mussels, resulting in increased electron transport system (ETS) activity and decreased cellular energy allocation (CEA). Significant carry-over effects were observed on all cellular energy parameters except the concentration of carbohydrates and cellular energy demand (Ec) after 7 days of recovery. Metabolomic analysis showed that acidification affected the phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan biosynthesis, taurine and hypotaurine metabolism, and glycine, serine and threonine metabolism. Correlation analysis showed that mussel cell energy parameters (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, CEA) were negatively/positively correlated with certain differentially abundant metabolites. Overall, the integrated biochemical and metabolomics analyses demonstrated the negative effects of acidification on energy metabolism at the cellular level and implicated the alteration of biosynthesis and metabolism of amino acids as a mechanism of metabolic perturbation caused by acidification in mussels.

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Effects of ocean acidification and hypoxia on stress and growth hormone responses in juvenile blue rockfish (Sebastes mystinus)

Global climate change is causing increasing ocean acidification (OA) and deoxygenation (hypoxia) of coastal oceans. Along the coast of California, where upwelling is a dominant seasonal physical process, these environmental stressors often co-occur and are intensified in nearshore ecosystems. For juvenile nearshore fishes, who spend a crucial developmental life stage in coastal kelp forests during the upwelling season, these stressors are experienced concurrently and may have large implications for fitness. Environmental stress can set off an endocrine response, which impacts physiology, energy allocation, growth, and behavior. To test the effects of climate change on juvenile blue rockfish, I measured the endocrine response to single and combined stressors of OA and hypoxia after one week of exposure. Assays of cortisol and IGF-1 hormone responses, served as proxies for stress and growth, respectively. Full organismal effects of environmental stressors were evaluated using a scototaxis (i.e., light/dark anxiety) behavior test, and measures of physiological changes in maximum metabolic rate (MMR) and body condition (i.e., Fulton’s K condition index). I found that peak (~1 hour) cortisol levels were highest in the single stressor low pH (7.3 pH), followed by the combined stressor (7.3 pH and 2.0 mg/L O2) and then the single stressor hypoxic treatment (2.0 mg/l O2). This high peak cortisol associated with low pH may indicate the role of cortisol in acid-base regulation. Only the low DO (dissolved oxygen) group did not exhibit a recovery of cortisol levels by the end of one week. There was no observable difference in IGF-1 in juvenile blue rockfish after a week of exposure to any of the pH or DO stressors. When cortisol levels were high, the same fish had low levels of IGF-1, and when cortisol levels were lower, the same fish had highly variable levels of IGF-1. At one-week of exposure, cortisol exhibited a positive relationship with MMR, such that higher stress levels were associated with greater oxygen consumption by the fish. MMR values themselves were highest in the low DO fish, which subsequently also had slightly higher cortisol levels at one-week. Juvenile blue rockfish were largely robust to any behavioral changes associated with stress across treatments. Hypoxic treatment fish had significantly lower body condition than fish from treatments with ambient DO levels after one week. Overall, the results indicated that pH levels influenced hormonal stress physiology, while DO levels contributed to observed differences in metabolism, body condition, and behavioral anxiety in juvenile blue rockfish. I was unable to tease apart and classify whether OA and hypoxia work in an additive, antagonistic, or synergistic way. Continued research should include more experimental stressor treatment levels of varying intensity of both individual and combined treatments as well as upwelling/relaxation fluctuating treatment levels. Elucidating the effects of climate change on fish endocrine response and physiology is important for fish population management and can help inform stock assessment models of blue rockfish in a rapidly changing ocean.

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Effects of hypoxia and acidification on Calanus pacificus: behavioral changes in response to stressful environments

Copepods, which play major roles in marine food webs and biogeochemical cycling, frequently undergo diel vertical migration (DVM), swimming downwards during the day to avoid visual predation and upwards at night to feed. Natural water columns that are stratified with chemical stressors at depth, such as hypoxia and acidification, are increasing with climate change. Understanding behavioral responses of copepods to these stresses—in particular, whether copepods alter their natural migration—is important to anticipating impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems. We conducted laboratory experiments using stratified water columns to measure the effects of bottom water hypoxia and pH on mortality, distribution, and swimming behaviors of the calanoid copepod Calanus pacificus. When exposed to hypoxic (0.65 mg O2 l-1) bottom waters, the height of C. pacificus from the bottom increased 20% within hypoxic columns, and swimming speed decreased 46% at the bottom of hypoxic columns and increased 12% above hypoxic waters. When exposed to low pH (7.48) bottom waters, swimming speeds decreased by 8 and 9% at the base of the tanks and above acidic waters, respectively. Additionally, we found a 118% increase in ‘moribund’ (immobile on the bottom) copepods when exposed to hypoxic, but not acidic, bottom waters. Some swimming statistics differed between copepods collected from sites with versus without historical hypoxia and acidity. Observed responses suggest potential mechanisms underlying in situ changes in copepod population distributions when exposed to chemical stressors at depth.

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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.

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Ocean acidification alters the acute stress response of a marine fish

Graphical abstract.


  • Ocean acidification (OA) impacts the physiological stress response of European sea bass.
  • Post-stress return to basal plasma cortisol and glucose levels is delayed under OA.
  • This delay is associated to alteration of hypothalamic neurotransmitters pattern.
  • Motor activity is reduced during recovery from stress in fish under OA conditions.


The absorption of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by oceans generates rapid changes in seawater carbonate system and pH, a process termed ocean acidification. Exposure to acidified water can impact the allostatic load of marine organism as the acclimation to suboptimal environments requires physiological adaptive responses that are energetically costly. As a consequence, fish facing ocean acidification may experience alterations of their stress response and a compromised ability to cope with additional stress, which may impact individuals’ life traits and ultimately their fitness. In this context, we carried out an integrative study investigating the impact of ocean acidification on the physiological and behavioral stress responses to an acute stress in juvenile European sea bass. Fish were long term (11 months) exposed to present day pH/CO2 condition or acidified water as predicted by IPCC “business as usual” (RCP8.5) scenario for 2100 and subjected to netting stress (fish transfer and confinement test). Fish acclimated to acidified condition showed slower post stress return to plasma basal concentrations of cortisol and glucose. We found no clear indication of regulation in the central and interrenal tissues of the expression levels of gluco- and mineralocorticoid receptors and corticoid releasing factor. At 120 min post stress, sea bass acclimated to acidified water had divergent neurotransmitters concentrations pattern in the hypothalamus (higher serotonin levels and lower GABA and dopamine levels) and a reduction in motor activity. Our experimental data indicate that ocean acidification alters the physiological response to acute stress in European sea bass via the neuroendocrine regulation of the corticotropic axis, a response associated to an alteration of the motor behavioral profile. Overall, this study suggests that behavioral and physiological adaptive response to climate changes related constraints may impact fish resilience to further stressful events.

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Genetic architecture of behavioural resilience to ocean acidification

Genetic variation is essential for adaptation to rapid environmental changes. Identifying genetic variation associated with climate-change related phenotypes is therefore the necessary first step towards predictive models of genomic vulnerability.

Here we used a whole-genome scan to identify candidate genetic variants associated with differences in behavioural resilience to ocean acidification in a coral reef fish. We identified three genomic regions that differ between individuals that are behaviourally tolerant compared with behaviourally sensitive to elevated CO2. These include a dopamine receptor (drd4rs), cadherin related family member 5-like (cdhr5l), Synapse-associated protein 1 (syap1), and GRB2 Associated Regulator of MAPK1 Subtype 2 (garem2), which have previously been found to modify behaviour related to boldness, novelty seeking, and learning in other species, and differ between behaviourally tolerant and sensitive individuals.

Consequently, the identified genes are promising candidates in the search of the genetic underpinnings and adaptive potential of behavioural resilience to ocean acidification in fishes.

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