Improving our understanding of evolutionary persistence in an increasingly high CO2 world: Insight from marine polychaetes at a low pH vent system
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The main aim of this thesis was to determine how marine metazoans might persist as ocean acidification (OA) conditions intensify. This was done using a combination of field surveys, field transplants and laboratory experiments with polychaetes from a site where volcanically-derived CO2 gas bubbles through the seafloor and drives the seawater pH down, resulting in a marine ecosystem representative of global OA projections for, or before, the year 2100. My first objective was to identify phenotypes, or traits, associated with OA tolerance (Chapter 2 and 5). To do this, I characterized the distribution of dominant calcifying polychaetes along natural pH gradients and used a comparative species recruitment trial to investigate life history traits underlying species’ OA tolerance, or vulnerability. I first found two dominant, closely related species of polychaete: Pileolaria militaris Claparède, 1870 and Simplaria sp. (Serpulidae, Spirorbinae). I then found that increased fecundity and rapid settlement are important traits in determining species’ abilities to persist in low pH environments (Chapter 2). Afterwhich, I investigated the life history traits of the non-calcifying polychaete, Platynereis dumerilii (Audouin & Milne Edwards, 1834), of one of the few species from the low pH site known to have broadcasting, pelagic development. I performed breeding experiments on P. dumerilii collected in both ambient and low pH sites and found that specimens from the low pH site were actually the direct developing brooder sister species, Platynereis massiliensis (Moquin-Tandon, 1869). By reanalayzing the distributions of both species at each site using genetic barcoding, I found clear evidence that direct development and brooding are dominant traits at low pH site, and for OA persistence (Chapter 5). My second objective was to use reciprocal transplant experiments to compare the relative importance of local adaptation and/or plasticity as potential mechanisms responsible for the differential tolerances of populations of the polychaete species Simplaria sp. to low pH. Laboratory transplants indicate that a local adaptation response occurred through genetic accommodation in the Simplaria sp. population from the low pH site. However, neither local adaptation nor plasticity appeared responsible for this species natural low pH persistence when assessed in situ (Chapter 3 & 4). My final objective was to create a framework using the polychaete vent model to identify other types of marine metazoans that are likely to be able to adapt to, and survive, under the predicted environmental conditions (Chapter 5). I overviewed the life history strategies of all dominant polychaetes in the low pH sites, and related trends in their life history strategies to those of other marine invertebrates. Brooding and direct development appear to be key traits for species likely to persist in future oceans pH. I conclude by summarizing how research regarding evolutionary responses may be advanced to add confidence to our projections of future marine metazoan responses.
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