Ocean acidification is causing severe changes in the inorganic carbon balance of the oceans. The pH conditions predicted for the future oceans are, however, already regularly occurring in the Baltic Sea, and the system might thus work as an analogue for future ocean acidification scenarios.
The characteristics of the Baltic Sea with low buffering capacity and large natural pH fluctuations, in combination with multiple other stressors, suggest that OA effects may be severe, but remain largely unexplored.
Effects on the calcifying bivalve Macome balthica
A calcifying species potentially affected by low pH conditions is the bivalve Macoma balthica (L.). We investigated larval survival and development of M. balthica by exposing the larvae to a range of pH levels: 7.2, 7.4, 7.7 and 8.1 during 20 days in order to learn what the effects of reduced pH are on the larval biology and thus also potentially for the population dynamics of this key species.
We found that even a slight pH decrease causes significant negative changes during the larval phase, both by slowing growth and by decreasing survival.
The growth was slower in all reduced pH treatments compared to the control treatment. The size of 250 µm that is considered indicative to imminent settling in our system was reached by 22% of the larvae grown in control conditions after 20 days, whereas in all reduced pH treatments the size of 250 µm was reached by only 7–14%.
Alarming impacts of ocean acidification
The strong impact of ocean acidification on larvae is alarming as slowly growing individuals are exposed to higher predation risk in response to the longer time they are required to spend in the plankton, further decreasing the ecological competence of the species.