Ocean acidification is having a profound impact on a prized crustacean that supports the most valuable fishery on the west coast of the United States.
According to a new study involving the University of Plymouth, the effects of climate change are impacting the shells and sensory organs of some young Dungeness crabs.
An analysis of samples collected during a 2016 research cruise identified examples of damage to the carapace, or upper shell, of numerous larval Dungeness crabs as well as the loss of hair-like sensory structures the crabs use to orientate themselves to their surroundings.
The study, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
Prior to this study, scientists had believed Dungeness crabs were not vulnerable to current levels of ocean acidification, although a laboratory study conducted on crab larvae in 2016 had found that their development and survival suffered under pH levels expected in the future.
Dr Nina Bednarsek, senior scientist with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project and the study’s lead author, said:
“This is the first study that demonstrates that larval crabs are already affected by ocean acidification in the natural environment, and builds on previous understanding of ocean acidification impacts on pteropods. If the crabs are affected already, we really need to make sure we start to pay much more attention to various components of the food chain before it is too late.”