Photo above: Zoea, or larvae, of the Atlantic blue crab have a distinctly different morphology than adults. They are often spawned in estuaries, where they can be exposed to low dissolved oxygen and acidified conditions. Photo credit: Stephen Tomasetti
STONY BROOK, NY—Inhabiting a vast network of estuaries along the Atlantic coast, blue crabs are ecologically important and represent one of the valuable and prized fisheries in the United States. Blue crabs spawn in estuaries at a time of year when water-quality issues such as low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) and low pH (acidification) can be the most persistent and severe. A group from the lab of Christopher Gobler, a Professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University, investigated the effects of these individual and combined stressors on early life stages of the blue crab. Their study, recently published in PLOS One, provides evidence that larval blue crabs experience increased mortality when exposed to low oxygen and/or low pH conditions at levels routinely found in degraded estuaries.
While hypoxia is known to be a common condition within coastal zones, recent studies from across the globe have emphasized that many estuaries that are over-enriched with nitrogen and experience low oxygen simultaneously experience low pH and acidification. While the effects of hypoxia on marine life have been well-studied, this is the first study to assess the effects of these two stressors on larval crabs. And, the research is timely as climate change has also been decreasing oxygen and pH levels in the oceans.
Co-author Stephen Tomasetti, a doctoral student in the Marine Science program of Stony Brook University’s SoMAS explained that even at moderate levels of dissolved oxygen exceeding common regulatory targets, larval survival declined. “It’s concerning, given that climate change is generally expected to continue to worsen conditions. However, with an emphasis on restoration, and sound management, coastal environments can see improvements in water quality,” he said.
“Global climate change is acidifying and deoxygenating our oceans and those processes are, by and large, running out of control,” said Gobler. “The findings of this and similar studies demonstrate that serious efforts need to be made at the watershed level to mitigate the factors that regionally contribute to acidification and low oxygen of our waters, namely nutrient overloading. This is likely our best chances to preserve fisheries that rely on estuaries as their primary habitat.”
Their findings suggest that the dissolved oxygen and pH levels of known spawning locales are important considerations for the management and conservation of blue crab populations.
Link to article in PLOS ONE:
About Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University is going beyond the expectations of what today’s public universities can accomplish. Since its founding in 1957, this young university has grown to become one of only four University Center campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 25,700 students, 2,500 faculty members, and 18 NCAA Division I athletic programs. Our faculty have earned numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Indianapolis Prize for animal conservation, Abel Prize and the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics. The University offers students an elite education with an outstanding return on investment: U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 40 public universities in the nation. Its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. As part of the management team of Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University joins a prestigious group of universities that have a role in running federal R&D labs. Stony Brook University is a driving force in the region’s economy, generating nearly 60,000 jobs and an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion. Our state, country and world demand ambitious ideas, imaginative solutions and exceptional leadership to forge a better future for all. The students, alumni, researchers and faculty of Stony Brook University are prepared to meet this challenge.
The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) is SUNY’s designated school for marine and atmospheric research, education and public service. SoMAS is among the leading oceanography and atmospheric sciences institutions in the world, providing students with access to wet laboratories, shipboard experiences, and interactive and high-powered radar and computing facilities. The School provides leadership to understand climate change and other environmental impacts at regional and global scales and provide mitigation and adaptation strategies at state, national and international levels. SoMAS provides expanded study opportunities in the fields of ocean conservation, climate change and extreme weather, sustainability, waste management, marine fisheries and resources, and many others. Students have many options for participating in study abroad programs including, Jamaica, Cuba, Tanzania, Kenya and Ireland.
Stephen Tomasetti, Stephen.Tomasetti@stonybrook.edu, 407-221-7543