Sea butterflies repair shell damage from ocean acidification

January 25, 2018, British Antarctic Survey
Sea butterflies repair shell damage from ocean acidification
Lead author Dr Vicky Peck studies sea butterflies on board the RRS James Clark Ross. Credit: British Antarctic Survey

A new study of tiny marine snails called sea butterflies shows the great lengths these animals go to repair damage caused by ocean acidification. The paper, led by researchers at British Antarctic Survey, is published this month in the journal Nature Communications.

The ocean absorbs around one quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere and this CO2 reacts with seawater, causing the pH to fall, a phenomenon called . It has been feared this acidification is detrimental to certain organisms as corrosive waters could dissolve their shells or skeletons. Sea butterflies, also known as pteropods (Limacina helicina), are mm-scale animals that are prevalent in the polar regions. They have evolved 'wings' instead of a foot, enabling them to swim through the ocean. Their delicate shells are made from aragonite, the least stable form of calcium carbonate, and are so thin they are completely translucent.

Despite their anticipated vulnerability to ocean , the study found that sea butterflies in the Greenland Sea show certain adaptations to their environment. Not only do they protect the outsides of their shells from corrosive waters with an impermeable membrane, much like cling-film, but they can also repair damage to their shells.

For the first time, BAS scientists have observed sea butterflies repairing damage by making new to patch themselves up from the inside.

Lead author Dr. Vicky Peck a paleoceanographer from British Antarctic Survey, says:

"It's good news that our research reveals that sea butterflies are demonstrating a resilience to a changing . It's only where the cling-film-like coating on their shell is damaged that the hard part becomes vulnerable to dissolution, not the whole shell as previously feared. What's also interesting is how these animals are able to repair areas of damage by extensively patching their shells up from the inside. One specimen was found to have added four times the thickness of original shell in repair material to counteract an area of exposed shell dissolving."

Explore further: Marine snails know how to budget their housing costs

More information: Victoria L. Peck et al. Pteropods counter mechanical damage and dissolution through extensive shell repair, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-02692-w

Related Stories

Marine snails know how to budget their housing costs

September 22, 2017

For nearly 50 years, researchers have been stumped as to why sea shells from warm tropical waters are comparatively larger than their cold water relatives. New research, led by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef ...

Ocean acidification affects mussels at early life stages

November 22, 2017

Mussels are popular seafood in northern Germany. Mussels in their blue-black shells, are found in tidal regions of the coastal zones. Like many creatures in the oceans, which protect themselves with a calcareous shell from ...

Recommended for you

Scientists find evidence of 27 new viruses in bees

June 20, 2018

An international team of researchers has discovered evidence of 27 previously unknown viruses in bees. The finding could help scientists design strategies to prevent the spread of viral pathogens among these important pollinators.

The cells that control the formation of fat

June 20, 2018

Fat cells, or adipocytes, are at the center of nutritional and metabolic balance. Adipogenesis—the formation of mature fat cells from their precursor cells—has been linked to obesity and related health problems such as ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.