Effects of acidifying ocean conditions on growth and survival of two life stages of the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus.

Sarah Giltz and Caz Taylor, Tulane University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, New Orleans, LA, United States
Blue crabs, Callinectes sapidus, begin their larval phase offshore and circulate for approximately 30 days before settling near shore. As crabs transition to the juvenile stage, they move into coastal or estuarine environments characterized by lower salinity. Presently the average pH of the ocean is 8.1, 30% down from the beginning of the industrial revolution and is forecasted to drop to 7.8 by 2100. Decreasing pH causes dissolution of calcium carbonate shells, but the overall effects on crustaceans, such as blue crabs, are unknown. This study investigated the effect of a lower pH environment on the growth, survival, carapace hardness and molt frequency of larval and juvenile blue crabs in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Larval crabs showed delayed growth under low pH (7.8) conditions compared to crabs in a control (present day) pH (8.1) environment. Population crashes (complete mortality) were experienced in 55% of the low pH aquaria but not in any of the control aquaria, suggesting that acidification poses a mortality risk. Under low pH conditions the intermolt duration decreased in juveniles, but the body length and weight did not differ from crabs raised in the control pH. Larvae (in tanks that did not crash) and juveniles did not experience increased mortality from a lower pH, but there do appear to be sublethal effects on growth and molting that differ between life history stages.