Interactive effects of salinity and elevated CO2 levels on juvenile eastern oysters, Crassostrea virginica

Gisela.Lannig [ at ]


Rising levels of atmospheric CO2 lead to acidification of the ocean and alter seawater carbonate chemistry, which can negatively impact calcifying organisms, including mollusks. In estuaries, exposure to elevated CO2 levels often co-occurs with other stressors, such as reduced salinity, which enhances the acidification trend, affects ion and acid–base regulation of estuarine calcifiers and modifies their response to ocean acidification. We studied the interactive effects of salinity and partial pressure of CO2 (PCO2) on biomineralization and energy homeostasis in juveniles of the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, a common estuarine bivalve. Juveniles were exposed for 11 weeks to one of two environmentally relevant salinities (30 or 15 PSU) either at current atmospheric PCO2 (~400 µatm, normocapnia) or PCO2 projected by moderate IPCC scenarios for the year 2100 (~700–800 µatm, hypercapnia). Exposure of the juvenile oysters to elevated PCO2 and/or low salinity led to a significant increase in mortality, reduction of tissue energy stores (glycogen and lipid) and negative soft tissue growth, indicating energy deficiency. Interestingly, tissue ATP levels were not affected by exposure to changing salinity and PCO2, suggesting that juvenile oysters maintain their cellular energy status at the expense of lipid and glycogen stores. At the same time, no compensatory upregulation of carbonic anhydrase activity was found under the conditions of low salinity and high PCO2. Metabolic profiling using magnetic resonance spectroscopy revealed altered metabolite status following low salinity exposure; specifically, acetate levels were lower in hypercapnic than in normocapnic individuals at low salinity. Combined exposure to hypercapnia and low salinity negatively affected mechanical properties of shells of the juveniles, resulting in reduced hardness and fracture resistance. Thus, our data suggest that the combined effects of elevated PCO2 and fluctuating salinity may jeopardize the survival of eastern oysters because of weakening of their shells and increased energy consumption.

Item Type
Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.1242/jeb.061481

Cite as
Dickinson, G. H. , Ivanina, A. V. , Matoo, O. B. , Pörtner, H. O. , Lannig, G. , Bock, C. , Beniash, E. and Sokolova, I. M. (2012): Interactive effects of salinity and elevated CO2 levels on juvenile eastern oysters, Crassostrea virginica , Journal of Experimental Biology, 215 (1), pp. 29-43 . doi: 10.1242/jeb.061481



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