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Reduced early life growth and survival in a fish in direct response to increased carbon dioxide


Absorption of anthropogenic carbon dioxide by the world’s oceans is causing mankind’s ‘other CO2 problem’, ocean acidification1. Although this process will challenge marine organisms that synthesize calcareous exoskeletons or shells2,3,4,5,6, it is unclear how it will affect internally calcifying organisms, such as marine fish7. Adult fish tolerate short-term exposures to CO2 levels that exceed those predicted for the next 300 years (2,000 ppm; ref. 8), but potential effects of increased CO2 on growth and survival during the early life stages of fish remain poorly understood7. Here we show that the exposure of early life stages of a common estuarine fish (Menidia beryllina) to CO2 concentrations expected in the world’s oceans later this century caused severely reduced survival and growth rates. When compared with present-day CO2 levels (400 ppm), exposure of M. beryllina embryos to 1,000 ppm until one week post-hatch reduced average survival and length by 74% and 18%, respectively. The egg stage was significantly more vulnerable to high CO2-induced mortality than the post-hatch larval stage. These findings challenge the belief that ocean acidification will not affect fish populations, because even small changes in early life survival can generate large fluctuations in adult-fish abundance9,10.

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Figure 1: Effect of increased CO2 on early life M. beryllina survival and length.
Figure 2: CO2 sensitivity of the egg versus early post-hatch stage in M. beryllina.
Figure 3: M. berylina larvae exposed to normal and elevated levels of CO2.

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We acknowledge the assistance of L. Merlo, R. Anderson, R. Light and Y. Tang. This work was supported by grants from the New Tamarind Foundation and National Science Foundation Biological Oceanography (no 1129622).

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H.B., S.C.T. and C.J.G. designed the experiments, conducted the experiments, generated the data, analysed samples, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Christopher J. Gobler.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Baumann, H., Talmage, S. & Gobler, C. Reduced early life growth and survival in a fish in direct response to increased carbon dioxide. Nature Clim Change 2, 38–41 (2012).

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