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Journal of Experimental Biology partnership with Dryad

Impact of ocean acidification on metabolism and energetics during early life stages of the intertidal porcelain crab Petrolisthes cinctipes
Hayley A. Carter, Lina Ceballos-Osuna, Nathan A. Miller, Jonathon H. Stillman


Absorption of elevated atmospheric CO2 is causing surface ocean pH to decline, a process known as ocean acidification (OA). To date, few studies have assessed the physiological impacts of OA on early life-history stages of intertidal organisms, which transition from habitats with fluctuating pH (intertidal zone) to relatively stable (pelagic zone) pH environments. We used the intertidal crab Petrolisthes cinctipes to determine whether metabolic responses to year 2300 predictions for OA vary among early developmental stages and to examine whether the effects were more pronounced in larval stages developing in the open ocean. Oxygen consumption rate, total protein, dry mass, total lipids and C/N were determined in late-stage embryos, zoea I larvae and newly settled juveniles reared in ambient pH (7.93±0.06) or low pH (7.58±0.06). After short-term exposure to low pH, embryos displayed 11% and 6% lower metabolism and dry mass, respectively, which may have an associated bioenergetic cost of delayed development to hatching. However, metabolic responses appeared to vary among broods, suggesting significant parental effects among the offspring of six females, possibly a consequence of maternal state during egg deposition and genetic differences among broods. Larval and juvenile metabolism were not affected by acute exposure to elevated CO2. Larvae contained 7% less nitrogen and C/N was 6% higher in individuals reared at pH 7.58 for 6 days, representing a possible switch from lipid to protein metabolism under low pH; the metabolic switch appears to fully cover the energetic cost of responding to elevated CO2. Juvenile dry mass was unaffected after 33 days exposure to low pH seawater. Increased tolerance to low pH in zoea I larvae and juvenile stages may be a consequence of enhanced acid–base regulatory mechanisms, allowing greater compensation of extracellular pH changes and thus preventing decreases in metabolism after exposure to elevated PCO2. The observed variation in responses of P. cinctipes to decreased pH in the present study suggests the potential for this species to adapt to future declines in near-shore pH.



    H.A.C. led all aspects of conception, design and execution of the study, interpretation of the findings, and drafting and revising the article. L.C.-O., N.A.M. and J.H.S. participated in aspects of conception, design and execution of the study, interpretation of the findings, and drafting and revising the article.


    No competing interests declared.


    This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation [grant no. 1041225 to J.H.S.], California State University (CSU) Council on Ocean Affairs, Science and Technology (COAST) Research and Travel Awards, a San Francisco State University College of Science and Engineering (COSE) Instructionally Related Award (IRA) Student Travel Award, a James C. Kelley Scholarship, and a San Francisco Bay Scholarship (Romberg Tiburon Center) to H.A.C. and L.C.-O.

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