National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2022

Natural analogues in pH variability and predictability across the coastal Pacific estuaries: Extrapolation of the increased oyster dissolution under increased pH amplitude and low predictability related to ocean acidification

Bednaršek, N., M.W. Beck, S.L. Applebaum, R.A. Feely, G. Pelletier, R. Butler, M. Byrne, B. Peabody, J. Davis, and J. Štrus

Environ. Sci. Tech., 56(12), 9015–9028, doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c00010, View online (2022)

Coastal-estuarine habitats are rapidly changing due to global climate change, with impacts influenced by the variability of carbonate chemistry conditions. However, our understanding of the responses of ecologically and economically important calcifiers to pH variability and temporal variation is limited, particularly with respect to shell-building processes. We investigated the mechanisms driving biomineralogical and physiological responses in juveniles of introduced (Pacific; Crassostrea gigas) and native (Olympia; Ostrea lurida) oysters under flow-through experimental conditions over a six-week period that simulate current and future conditions: static control and low pH (8.0 and 7.7); low pH with fluctuating (24-h) amplitude (7.7 ± 0.2 and 7.7 ± 0.5); and high-frequency (12-h) fluctuating (8.0 ± 0.2) treatment. The oysters showed physiological tolerance in vital processes, including calcification, respiration, clearance, and survival. However, shell dissolution significantly increased with larger amplitudes of pH variability compared to static pH conditions, attributable to the longer cumulative exposure to lower pH conditions, with the dissolution threshold of pH 7.7 with 0.2 amplitude. Moreover, the high-frequency treatment triggered significantly greater dissolution, likely because of the oyster’s inability to respond to the unpredictable frequency of variations. The experimental findings were extrapolated to provide context for conditions existing in several Pacific coastal estuaries, with time series analyses demonstrating unique signatures of pH predictability and variability in these habitats, indicating potentially benefiting effects on fitness in these habitats. These implications are crucial for evaluating the suitability of coastal habitats for aquaculture, adaptation, and carbon dioxide removal strategies.

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