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: Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife

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

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.