Shellfish face uncertain future in high CO2 world: influence of acidification on oyster larvae calcification and growth in estuaries

PLoS One. 2009 May 27;4(5):e5661. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005661.


Background: Human activities have increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide by 36% during the past 200 years. One third of all anthropogenic CO(2) has been absorbed by the oceans, reducing pH by about 0.1 of a unit and significantly altering their carbonate chemistry. There is widespread concern that these changes are altering marine habitats severely, but little or no attention has been given to the biota of estuarine and coastal settings, ecosystems that are less pH buffered because of naturally reduced alkalinity.

Methodology/principal findings: To address CO(2)-induced changes to estuarine calcification, veliger larvae of two oyster species, the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica), and the Suminoe oyster (Crassostrea ariakensis) were grown in estuarine water under four pCO(2) regimes, 280, 380, 560 and 800 microatm, to simulate atmospheric conditions in the pre-industrial era, present, and projected future concentrations in 50 and 100 years respectively. CO(2) manipulations were made using an automated negative feedback control system that allowed continuous and precise control over the pCO(2) in experimental aquaria. Larval growth was measured using image analysis, and calcification was measured by chemical analysis of calcium in their shells. C. virginica experienced a 16% decrease in shell area and a 42% reduction in calcium content when pre-industrial and end of 21(st) century pCO(2) treatments were compared. C. ariakensis showed no change to either growth or calcification. Both species demonstrated net calcification and growth, even when aragonite was undersaturated, a result that runs counter to previous expectations for invertebrate larvae that produce aragonite shells.

Conclusions and significance: Our results suggest that temperate estuarine and coastal ecosystems are vulnerable to the expected changes in water chemistry due to elevated atmospheric CO(2) and that biological responses to acidification, especially calcifying biota, will be species-specific and therefore much more variable and complex than reported previously.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acids
  • Animal Structures / anatomy & histology
  • Animal Structures / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Calcification, Physiologic / drug effects*
  • Calcium Carbonate / metabolism*
  • Carbon Dioxide / pharmacology*
  • Crassostrea / drug effects*
  • Crassostrea / growth & development*
  • Fresh Water*
  • Larva / drug effects
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Organ Size / drug effects


  • Acids
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Calcium Carbonate