As the ocean becomes more acidic, mussels may lose the ability to stay attached to surfaces. Scientists from the University of Washington have just released a new study that shows water with a lower pH can prevent mussel species from properly curing the adhesives they produce.
The researchers studied mussels kept in aquariums of varying pH values. They found that mussels kept in more acidic conditions produced weaker adhesive threads, a difference of 25% when compared to the control group. Low pH affected the curing step of the process and this failure of the threads to properly cure made the attachments weak. Mussels that had been kept at a normal pH but were then transferred to low pH conditions during the curing process had just as much trouble; this provides further evidence that the curing stage was being disrupted.
The ability to attach to hard surfaces is critical for mussel survival. They normally cement themselves to a firm surface, consuming plankton by filtering them out of the water. A mussel that can’t stay attached will drop to the sea floor, falling victim to any number of predators. This could negatively affect the mussel aquaculture industry. If the researchers’ estimations are correct, 20% or more of the mussels on a typical mussel farm could be lost.
Carbon dioxide emissions, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels, are lowering the pH of ocean water in a process called ocean acidification. This may cause complications for many marine animals, including bivalves such as mussels and clams. Ocean acidification not only causes problems for local ecosystems but these findings have negative implications for both the fishing and aquaculture industries. Researching the consequences of this acidification effect will allow us to identify which species are most at risk. The pH of the ocean is likely to continue dropping so more studies are essential.
Acid attack: Can mussels hang on for much longer? Society for Experimental Biology (2016).