Snail Shells Are Dissolving As Oceans Get More Acidic

Posted: Oct 17 2018, 9:14am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Snails Shells are Dissolving as Oceans get More Acidic
A comparison of shells assessed during the research. Credit: Ben Harvey/University of Tsukuba

Increasing ocean acidity is taking a toll on organisms that construct their shells and exoskeletons out of calcium carbonate.

Ocean acidification is having a major impact on marine life. Researchers have found evidence that the rise in oceanic acidity is dissolving shells of sea snails, making them vulnerable against predators.

Many marine creatures like snails create protective shells and exoskeletons from calcium carbonate from seawater, but increasing ocean acidification is affecting the strength of their shells and even causes them to dissolve entirely.

Oceans absorb around one quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide interacts with seawater and changes its chemistry. As a result, pH decreases and the water becomes less alkaline and more acidic. This process is known as ocean acidification. Researchers have long feared that ocean acidification is taking a toll on marine organisms and most-vulnerable organisms are likely to be those with calcium carbonate shells or skeletons.

In the latest effort, a combined team of researchers from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, and the University of Plymouth, UK, assessed the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels on the large predatory “triton shell” gastropod (Charonia lampas). Charonia lampas is a species of sea snail that is widely distributed across the globe.

Researchers have found a noticeable negative impact on the thickness, density and structure of their shells. They say that lower pH has made it difficult for these snails to continue to build their protective layers or shells. Since snails need calcium carbonate to construct their shells, the changes in seawater impact their calcification process and ultimately threatening their survival. Researchers warn that this trend will have an even greater and potentially catastrophic impact in the coming decades.

"Ocean acidification is a clear threat to marine life, acting as a stressor for many marine animals. Here we found that the ability of the triton shells to produce and maintain their shells was hindered by ocean acidification, with the corrosive seawater making them smoother, thinner, and less dense. The extensive dissolution of their shells has profound consequences for calcified animals into the future as it is not something they can biologically control, suggesting that some calcified species might be unable to adapt to the acidified seawater if carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise unchecked." Dr. Ben Harvey, a Professor in the University of Tsukuba's Shimoda Marine Research Center, said.

The latest study was conducted at a marine volcanic seep off the coast of Shikine-jima in Japan where carbon dioxide bubbling up through the seabed. Researchers used computed tomography (CT) scanning to understand how ocean acidification has changed the structure of the snail shells and found that shell thickness halved in areas with raised CO2. On average, shell length was reduced from 178mm in these sites with present day levels to 112mm. In some cases, shell casing even dissolved completely.

“Our study clearly shows that increasing carbon dioxide levels cause seawater to become corrosive to shellfish,” said Jason Hall-Spencer from University of Plymouth. “As these calcified animals are a fundamental component of coastal marine communities, ocean acidification is expected to impact shellfish fisheries.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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