The behavioural consequences of reduced sea water pH in decapod crustaceans
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The studies presented in this thesis were designed to investigate the effects of reduced sea water pH on the behaviour of intertidal decapod crustaceans, both within the context of the variations occurring naturally in the pH of rock pool habitats, and in relation to predicted changes to ocean pH resulting from ocean acidification and potential carbon dioxide (CO2) leaks from carbon capture storage (CCS) sites. Recent studies on marine fish have shown behavioural disruptions as a result of increased CO2 concentrations in sea water and reduced pH, but the effects on crustaceans are as yet unknown. The first two studies investigated the effects of reduced pH upon the olfactory behaviour of the prawn Palaemon elegans and the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus, focussing on their responses to food odours. Short-term (five day) exposures to highly reduced pH (pHNBS = 6.60, 6.80) revealed disruptions to the chemo-sensory behaviour of both species with a reduction in their ‘sniffing’ response, and the inability of P. bernhardus to locate the chemical cue. This was also accompanied by elevated haemolymph chloride ions. in In a further study P. bernhardus was subjected to a longer exposure (60 days) and to a range of pH levels (pHNBS = 8.00, 7.90, 7.70, 7.35 and 6.80) in order to detect a threshold for the behavioural disruptions observed, and to determine if there would be any sign of acclimation over a longer period. A clear gradient in the disruptions to the chemo-sensory responses and survival rates of the hermit crabs, and disruption to a physiological marker (elevated haemolymph calcium ions), was found. Possible thresholds for disruption were also identified at levels that match predictions for ocean acidification and leaks from proposed CO2 CCS sites. Some of the crabs in the lower pH treatments exhibited a recovery in their responses by day 60, possibly indicating an acclimation effect. The presence of disruption to haemolymph ion concentrations in both the short and longer term hermit crab studies suggest a mechanism for behavioural disruption. In a final study the effects of reduced sea water pH on a more complex behaviour, involving decision making, was investigated. Reduced sea water pH was shown to disrupt the shell assessment and selection behaviour of P. bernhardus affecting its decision making processes, although not all crabs were affected in the same way. The work presented here therefore demonstrates that reduced sea water pH could have disruptive effects upon both information gathering, via chemo-sensory processes, and decision making in intertidal crustaceans. The mechanism responsible is unlikely to be due to changes in the odour molecule, or physical damage to receptor organs. Rather the observed disruptions could be due (a) to ionic changes, causing metabolic depression or interference with neurotransmitter function, or (b) to disruption to chemoreception per se. Such disturbances to key behavioural processes have implications for inter and intraspecific species interactions and population dynamics in the marine environment. Changes in pH are already experienced by intertidal animals for short periods when rock pools are emersed, but future anthropogencially-induced reductions in sea water pH are likely to cause more sustained and widespread disruptions with, as yet, unpredictable consequences. The differential responses observed between individuals in these studies may warrant further investigation as such differences may provide the basis for selection and adaptation to projected changes in ocean pH.
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