Have we been underestimating the effects of ocean acidification in zooplankton?

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  • [The copyright line for this article was changed on 21 November 2015, after first online publication.]

Abstract

Understanding how copepods may respond to ocean acidification (OA) is critical for risk assessments of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry. The perception that copepods are insensitive to OA is largely based on experiments with adult females. Their apparent resilience to increased carbon dioxide (pCO2) concentrations has supported the view that copepods are ‘winners’ under OA. Here, we show that this conclusion is not robust, that sensitivity across different life stages is significantly misrepresented by studies solely using adult females. Stage-specific responses to pCO2 (385–6000 μatm) were studied across different life stages of a calanoid copepod, monitoring for lethal and sublethal responses. Mortality rates varied significantly across the different life stages, with nauplii showing the highest lethal effects; nauplii mortality rates increased threefold when pCO2 concentrations reached 1000 μatm (year 2100 scenario) with LC50 at 1084 μatm pCO2. In comparison, eggs, early copepodite stages, and adult males and females were not affected lethally until pCO2 concentrations ≥3000 μatm. Adverse effects on reproduction were found, with >35% decline in nauplii recruitment at 1000 μatm pCO2. This suppression of reproductive scope, coupled with the decreased survival of early stage progeny at this pCO2 concentration, has clear potential to damage population growth dynamics in this species. The disparity in responses seen across the different developmental stages emphasizes the need for a holistic life-cycle approach to make species-level projections to climate change. Significant misrepresentation and error propagation can develop from studies which attempt to project outcomes to future OA conditions solely based on single life history stage exposures.

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