Ocean acidification and its effects upon fitness in nereidid polychaetes

Davidson, Laura

Biological sciences
May 2013

Thesis or dissertation

© 2013 Laura Davidson. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

In recent years there has been increasing focus on predicting the potential effects of greenhouse gas driven global warming; this has proven to be a major challenge for science. In the last decade, there has been a major shift in research with growing scientific concern over the changing ocean carbonate chemistry as a result of ever increasing anthropogenic CO₂ emissions.

Major changes to the basic chemistry of seawater, such as the water pH, are likely to have substantial implications for marine life in the future (Hardege et al., 2011). Research to date has focused largely upon those organisms that require calcium carbonate to build protective shells or skeletons (Orr et al., 2005).

Using semelparous polychaetes, Platynereis dumerilii and Alitta succinea, it is shown that when exposed to pH levels forecasted to occur by 2100 (pH 7.8) survival, development, reproductive output and essential behaviours e.g. feeding and predator avoidance, are negatively impacted. A. succinea show severely reduced responses to natural chemical signals with subsequent low fertilisation and larval success.

The ubiquity of chemical communication in the aqueous environment indicates that chemoreception disruption can potentially have dramatic consequences. Data show that if ocean acidification continues as predicted, marine chemoreception will have to adapt rapidly with potentially profound consequences for marine life and animal interactions.

It is clear from this investigation that P. dumerilii and A. succinea are not capable of acclimatisation within one lifetime. Interestingly, P. dumerilii sampled and sequenced from a naturally occurring CO₂ vent in Ischia (Naples, Italy) are genetically different from other P. dumerilii populations within Europe. Individuals appear to show signs of adaptation in behavioural trials with few significant differences between pH treatments 8.2 and 7.8. Future studies are needed to ascertain how these organisms are adapted to life in low pH waters.

Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Hull
Hardege, Jörg D.; Lunt, David H.
Sponsor (Organisation)
Professional Classes Aid Council; Dr A.E. Hart Trust; Aldermann Ferries Charity; Allan and Nesta Foundation; Elizabeth Walker Foundation; Fred and Patricia Tuckman Foundation; Roger and Sarah Bancroft Charitable Trust; Sidney Perry Foundation; Women's Career Foundation; Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education
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