Near-future level of CO2-driven ocean acidification radically affects larval survival and development in the brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis
The world's oceans are slowly becoming more acidic. In the last 150 yr, the pH of the oceans has dropped by similar to 0.1 units, which is equivalent to a 25 % increase in acidity. Modelling predicts the pH of the oceans to fall by 0.2 to 0.4 units by the year 2100. These changes will have significant effects on marine organisms, especially those with calcareous skeletons such as echinoderms. Little is known about the possible long-term impact of predicted pH changes on marine invertebrate larval development. Here we predict the consequences of increased CO2 (corresponding to pH drops of 0.2 and 0.4 units) on the larval development of the brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis, which is a keystone species occurring in high densities and stable populations throughout the shelf seas of northwestern Europe (eastern Atlantic). Acidification by 0.2 units induced 100 % larval mortality within 8 d while control larvae showed 70 % survival over the same period. Exposure to low pH also resulted in a temporal decrease in larval size as well as abnormal development and skeletogenesis (abnormalities, asymmetry, altered skeletal proportions). If oceans continue to acidify as expected, ecosystems of the Atlantic dominated by this keystone species will be seriously threatened with major changes in many key benthic and pelagic ecosystems. Thus, it may be useful to monitor O. fragilis populations and initiate conservation if needed.