Plymouth-led study finds some sea creatures can adapt in acidic seawater
Some species of marine life can change their metabolic rates to adapt to waters with high levels carbon dioxide.
A study by the University of Plymouth discovered how certain species are able to adapt to survive in increasingly acidic waters – a result of climate change, according to scientists.
The work might hold the key to understanding of the robustness of some marine species and the relative resilience of marine biodiversity should atmospheric CO2 continue to cause ocean acidification.
A team of scientists led by Plymouth University, and including colleagues from the Naples Zoological Station in Ischia; the Marine Ecology Laboratory ENEA in La Spezia, Italy; the University of Texas Galveston; and the University of Hull, conducted a three-year research project into the potential mechanisms that species of worm polychaetes use to live around the underwater CO2 vent off Ischia in southern Italy.
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The study was based around an underwater volcanic vent in the Mediterranean, and researchers have discovered that some species of the polychaete worms are able to change their metabolic rates to better cope in waters high in CO2.
These waters are poisonous to other, often closely-related species.
The study sheds new light on the robustness of some marine species and the relative resilience of marine biodiversity. The researchers collected specimens found in waters characterised by either high or low levels of CO2, and placed them in specially- constructed 'transplantation chambers', which were lowered into areas both within and away from the volcanic vent.
They monitored the responses of the worms and found that one of the species that had been living inside the CO2 vent was physiologically and genetically adapted to the acidic conditions, whilst another was able to survive inside the vent by adjusting its metabolism.
Project leader Dr Piero Calosi, of Plymouth University's Marine Institute, said: "Previous studies have shown that single-cell algae can genetically adapt to higher levels of carbon dioxide, but this research has shown that a marine animal can physiologically and genetically adapt to higher levels of carbon dioxide.
"Furthermore, we show that adaptation is key to preventing some species from suffering extinction in the face of ongoing ocean acidification, and that these two strategies may be largely responsible in defining the fate of marine biodiversity.
''Ultimately, species' responses to high CO2, as those reported by our study, may have repercussions on their abundance and distribution, and thus on the structure and dynamics of marine communities.
"This in turn will impact those ecosystem functions that humans rely upon to obtain goods and services from the ocean."