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Milford Lab: Ocean Acidification Research

Ocean Acidification Research on Surfclam Development and Survival

The ocean acidification group at our Milford Lab (CT) shot this video of young surfclams swimming and feeding on algae (small dark green specks). With the help of collaborators from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the team is researching how ocean acidification might affect the growth and survival of larval surfclams, as well as their ability to morph from free-swimming larvae to bottom dwelling juveniles.

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Phytoplankton, or microalgae, are single-celled photosynthetic organisms at the base of marine food webs that support finfish and shellfish production. At present, it is unclear how changes in atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 and ocean pH will affect phytoplankton physiology and community structure. We have been conducting single-species, laboratory culture experiments assessing the influence of experimentally-varied steady-state pH/CO2 upon phytoplankton physiology and nutritional content, including growth rate, elemental composition (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus), total carbohydrates, lipids, and fatty acids. We are also conducting research on multiple phytoplankton species in competition experiments, the response of diatom transcriptomes to characterize gene response, and natural community mesocosm pH/CO2 manipulation experiments with field-collected phytoplankton assemblages. A primary objective in this research is to understand how ocean acidification may affect phytoplankton community structure and nutritional content.

For more information, contact Shannon Meseck.


Milford researchers have been partnering with scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to examine the effects of elevated levels of CO2 on the surf clam, Spissula solidissima a commercially important species found from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. Previous studies have shown that elevated levels of CO2 can negatively impact shell development in a variety of bivalve species, but studies to date have not examined surf clams. Our experiments have focused on growth, survival, and early shell development of surf clams. We have also examined the possible mitigating effect of increased food availability on CO2 impacts, and are examining the biochemical composition (i.e. lipid, protein, carbohydrate) of the animals to determine if CO2 is impacting the animals in a manner not obvious by examining shell development alone.  Experiments planned for 2015 hope to identify metamorphic success of these clams under different CO2 scenarios.  Recent experiments have also examined the impacts of elevated CO2 on larvae of the bay scallop, Argopecten irradians, and the sea scallop, Placopecten magellanicus.

For more information, contact Lisa Milke.


Ocean acidification is an increase in the ocean’s acidity, caused by its uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists are conducting studies to determine the effects of increased levels of CO2 on the structural dynamics of otoliths from young-of-the-year scup. Juvenile scup exposed to three levels of CO2 showed no otolith structural abnormalities, asymmetries, or differences in size and mass. Additionally, measurements of somatic growth, i.e. length and weight, are being conducted on young-of-the-year scup that have been exposed to increased levels of CO2. There was an observable difference in the weight of the scup when exposed to increased levels of CO2. Scup exposed to the highest level of CO2 weighed the most at the end of a 9 week experiment.

Future experiments will be conducted on the egg and larval stages of scup and black sea bass, because the early life stages of marine fish may be especially sensitive to the effects of ocean acidification, leading to potential impacts on stocks. Experiments will include measurements on egg hatch, larval growth and survival.

For more information, contact Dean Perry.
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(File Modified Dec. 07 2017)