Hypoxia impacts large adults first: consequences in a warming world



Future oceans are predicted to contain less oxygen than at present. This is because oxygen is less soluble in warmer water and predicted stratification will reduce mixing. Hypoxia in marine environments is thus likely to become more widespread in marine environments and understanding species-responses is important to predicting future impacts on biodiversity. This study used a tractable model, the Antarctic clam, Laternula elliptica, which can live for 36 years, and has a well-characterized ecology and physiology to understand responses to hypoxia and how the effect varied with age. Younger animals had a higher condition index, higher adenylate energy charge and transcriptional profiling indicated that they were physically active in their response to hypoxia, whereas older animals were more sedentary, with higher levels of oxidative damage and apoptosis in the gills. These effects could be attributed, in part, to age-related tissue scaling; older animals had proportionally less contractile muscle mass and smaller gills and foot compared with younger animals, with consequential effects on the whole-animal physiological response. The data here emphasize the importance of including age effects, as large mature individuals appear to be less able to resist hypoxic conditions and this is the size range that is the major contributor to future generations. Thus, the increased prevalence of hypoxia in future oceans may have marked effects on benthic organisms' abilities to persist and this is especially so for long-lived species when predicting responses to environmental perturbation.