Acidifying oceans could hit California mussels, a key species

Jul 14, 2011
These are veliger-stage larvae of the California mussel, Mytilus californianus. Credit: Eric Sanford, UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab

Ocean acidification, a consequence of climate change, could weaken the shells of California mussels and diminish their body mass, with serious implications for coastal ecosystems, UC Davis researchers will report July 15 in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

California mussels (Mytilus californianus) live in beds along the western coast of the United States from Alaska to California. More than 300 other species share the beds or depend on the mussels in some way.

"Because these mussels play such an ecologically critical role, a decline in their numbers could impact a wide range of other organisms," said Brian Gaylord, associate professor of evolution and ecology at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and first author of the paper.

Carbon dioxide, a , is absorbed into the ocean, increasing its acidity. That acidity has increased by almost a third since the mid 18th century.

Mussels spend the first part of their lives swimming freely as larvae, before settling onto coastal rocks to grow into adults.

In the lab, Gaylord and his colleagues raised mussels from fertilization to the point where they were ready to settle, rearing them in both normal seawater and in water with two different conditions of elevated acidity. The acidity levels were based on projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Geneva-based scientific body established by the United Nations. One of the elevated assumed continued heavy use of ; the other assumed a more optimistic scenario.

These are adult California mussels. Credit: Jackie Sones, UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab

Compared to those raised in normal , the young mussels living in the more acid waters had smaller, thinner, weaker shells, and as much as a third less body mass.

Weaker shells would make them more vulnerable to predators like crabs that crush their prey, as well as to carnivorous snails that drill through shells, Gaylord said.

Smaller body size would make them more likely to dry out at low tide and less able to withstand the energetically expensive process of metamorphosis from a free-living larva to a settled shellfish.

"Together these trends suggest that we're likely to see lower survivorship of young as they return to shore," Gaylord said.

Although not an important fishery, the California mussel is a vital coastal species because so many other marine creatures depend on it for food and habitat.

Explore further: Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

More information: Gaylord, B., Hill, T. M., Sanford, E., Lenz, E. A., Jacobs, L. A., Sato, K. N., Russell, A. D. and Hettinger, A. (2011). Functional impacts of ocean acidification in an ecologically critical foundation species. J. Exp. Biol. 214, 2586-2594.

Provided by University of California - Davis

1 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Danes warned not to eat beach mussels

Jul 25, 2006

Danish environmental experts are warning people about the danger of eating mussels collected on beaches or off the coast of Denmark.

On 'Earth week,' world is no longer our oyster

Apr 20, 2010

The world is no longer our oyster. As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, we can add another species, one of widespread ecological and economic importance, to the list of the beleaguered.

Recommended for you

Citizen scientists match research tool when counting sharks

13 hours ago

Shark data collected by citizen scientists may be as reliable as data collected using automated tools, according to results published April 23, 2014, in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Vianna from The University of Wes ...

Researchers detail newly discovered deer migration

20 hours ago

A team of researchers including University of Wyoming scientists has documented the longest migration of mule deer ever recorded, the latest development in an initiative to understand and conserve ungulate ...

How Australia got the hump with one million feral camels

20 hours ago

A new study by a University of Exeter researcher has shed light on how an estimated one million-strong population of wild camels thriving in Australia's remote outback have become reviled as pests and culled ...

Former Iron Curtain still barrier for deer

Apr 23, 2014

The Iron Curtain was traced by an electrified barbed-wire fence that isolated the communist world from the West. It was an impenetrable Cold War barrier—and for some inhabitants of the Czech Republic it ...

Humpback protections downgrade clears way for pipeline

Apr 22, 2014

Environmentalist activists on Tuesday decried Canada's downgrading of humpback whale protections, suggesting the decision was fast-tracked to clear a major hurdle to constructing a pipeline to the Pacific ...

Maine baby lobster decline could end high catches

Apr 22, 2014

Scientists say the number of baby lobsters settling off the rocky coast of Maine continues to steadily decline—possibly foreshadowing an end to the recent record catches that have boosted New England's lobster fishery.

User comments : 0

More news stories

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.