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Ocean Warming, More than Acidification, Reduces Shell Strength in a Commercial Shellfish Species during Food Limitation

February 5, 2014

Ocean surface pH levels are predicted to fall by 0.3–0.4 pH units by the end of the century and are likely to coincide with an increase in sea surface temperature of 2–4°C. The combined effect of ocean acidification and warming on the functional properties of bivalve shells is largely unknown and of growing concern as the shell provides protection from mechanical and environmental challenges. We examined the effects of near-future pH (ambient pH –0.4 pH units) and warming (ambient temperature +4°C) on the shells of the commercially important bivalve, Mytilus edulis when fed for a limited period (4–6 h day−1). After six months exposure, warming, but not acidification, significantly reduced shell strength determined as reductions in the maximum load endured by the shells. However, acidification resulted in a reduction in shell flex before failure. Reductions in shell strength with warming could not be explained by alterations in morphology, or shell composition but were accompanied by reductions in shell surface area, and by a fall in whole-body condition index. It appears that warming has an indirect effect on shell strength by re-allocating energy from shell formation to support temperature-related increases in maintenance costs, especially as food supply was limited and the mussels were probably relying on internal energy reserves. The maintenance of shell strength despite seawater acidification suggests that biomineralisation processes are unaffected by the associated changes in CaCO3 saturation levels. We conclude that under near-future climate change conditions, ocean warming will pose a greater risk to shell integrity in M. edulis than ocean acidification when food availability is limited.

Mackenzie CL, Ormondroyd GA, Curling SF, Ball RJ, Whiteley NM, et al., 2014: Ocean Warming, More than Acidification, Reduces Shell Strength in a Commercial Shellfish Species during Food Limitation. PLoS ONE 9(1): e86764. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086764. Article.

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