Climate: Study assesses impacts of warmer water, ocean acidification on Antarctic fish

Reserarchers see changes in embryo development

sdfg Report on the deep-sea fishes collected by H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873-1876 Günther, Albert C. L. G. (Albert Carl Ludwig Gotthilf), 1830-1914
A drawing of an Antarctic dragonfish from a report on the deep-sea fishes collected by H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873-1876.  Günther, Albert C. L. G. (Albert Carl Ludwig Gotthilf).

Staff Report

FRISCO — In another clue as to how warmer and more acidic waters will affect ocean life, scientists with the University of California Davis and San Francisco State University have found that the combination speeds up the development of dragonfish larvae.

The researchers studied the fish in part because their embryos are slow to form, which could make them more susceptible to changed conditions. The findings suggest that higher levels of CO2 and warmer waters have a big impact on the survival and development of the Antarctic dragonfish. The research article was published in the journal Conservation Physiology.

The study measure the survival and metabolism of the dragonfish embryo two different temperatures and various levels of CO2 over a three-week period. Warming temperaturs will probably be the main factor affecting the fish, but increases in ocean acidification will “also alter embryonic physiology, with responses dependent on water temperature,” said Professor Anne Todgham, one of the paper’s authors.

“Dragonfish embryos exhibited a synergistic increase in mortality when elevated temperature was coupled with increased pCO2 over the course of the three week experiment,” Todgham said. “While we predictably found that temperature increased embryonic development, altered development due to increased pCO2 was unexpected.”

The faster development of the embryos in warmer and more acidic waters could be bad news for the dragonfish. Hatching earlier, at the start of the dark winter months when limited food resources are available, has the potential to limit growth during critical periods of development. Furthermore, impacts to survival would reduce numbers of embryos that hatch and could impact dragonfish abundance.

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