Parental environment mediates impacts of increased carbon dioxide on a coral reef fish


Carbon dioxide concentrations in the surface ocean are increasing owing to rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere1. Higher CO2 levels are predicted to affect essential physiological processes of many aquatic organisms2,3, leading to widespread impacts on marine diversity and ecosystem function, especially when combined with the effects of global warming4,5,6. Yet the ability for marine species to adjust to increasing CO2 levels over many generations is an unresolved issue. Here we show that ocean conditions projected for the end of the century (approximately 1,000 μatm CO2 and a temperature rise of 1.5–3.0 °C) cause an increase in metabolic rate and decreases in length, weight, condition and survival of juvenile fish. However, these effects are absent or reversed when parents also experience high CO2 concentrations. Our results show that non-genetic parental effects can dramatically alter the response of marine organisms to increasing CO2 and demonstrate that some species have more capacity to acclimate to ocean acidification than previously thought.

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Figure 1: The effect of parental environment on life history and metabolic traits of juvenile anemonefish exposed to high CO2.


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We thank staff of James Cook University’s Marine Aquarium Facility, R. De Nys for logistical support and J. L. Rummer for comments on the manuscript. The project was financially supported by the Australian Research Council (P.L.M), ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (P.L.M. and M.I.M.) and Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation (G.M.M.). This project was completed under JCU Ethics A1427.

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G.M.M. and P.L.M. designed the experiments. G.M.M. carried out all experimentation and analysed raw data. S-A.W. and G.M.M. collected and analysed seawater chemistry parameters. P.L.M., G.M.M., J.M.D., S-A.W. and M.I.M. wrote the article. All authors contributed intellectual input, read and approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Gabrielle M. Miller.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Miller, G., Watson, SA., Donelson, J. et al. Parental environment mediates impacts of increased carbon dioxide on a coral reef fish. Nature Clim Change 2, 858–861 (2012).

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