Effects of ocean warming and acidification on survival, growth and skeletal development in the early benthic juvenile sea urchin (Heliocidaris erythrogramma)


Correspondence: Kennedy Wolfe, tel. +61 2 9351 5167, fax +61 2 9351 2813 e-mail:


Co-occurring ocean warming, acidification and reduced carbonate mineral saturation have significant impacts on marine biota, especially calcifying organisms. The effects of these stressors on development and calcification in newly metamorphosed juveniles (ca. 0.5 mm test diameter) of the intertidal sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma, an ecologically important species in temperate Australia, were investigated in context with present and projected future conditions. Habitat temperature and pH/pCO2 were documented to place experiments in a biologically and ecologically relevant context. These parameters fluctuated diurnally up to 10 °C and 0.45 pH units. The juveniles were exposed to three temperature (21, 23 and 25 °C) and four pH (8.1, 7.8, 7.6 and 7.4) treatments in all combinations, representing ambient sea surface conditions (21 °C, pH 8.1; pCO2 397; ΩCa 4.7; ΩAr 3.1), near-future projected change (+2–4 °C, −0.3–0.5 pH units; pCO2 400–1820; ΩCa 5.0–1.6; ΩAr 3.3–1.1), and extreme conditions experienced at low tide (+4 °C, −0.3–0.7 pH units; pCO2 2850–2967; ΩCa 1.1–1.0; ΩAr 0.7–0.6). The lowest pH treatment (pH 7.4) was used to assess tolerance levels. Juvenile survival and test growth were resilient to current and near-future warming and acidification. Spine development, however, was negatively affected by near-future increased temperature (+2–4 °C) and extreme acidification (pH 7.4), with a complex interaction between stressors. Near-future warming was the more significant stressor. Spine tips were dissolved in the pH 7.4 treatments. Adaptation to fluctuating temperature-pH conditions in the intertidal may convey resilience to juvenile H. erythrogramma to changing ocean conditions, however, ocean warming and acidification may shift baseline intertidal temperature and pH/pCO2 to levels that exceed tolerance limits.