Ocean Acidification Could Leave Clown Fish (Like Nemo) Lost at Sea

By Eliza Strickland | February 3, 2009 8:46 am

clown fishOcean acidification, the second part of the one-two punch packed by global warming, has been shown to disorient young clown fish and prevent them from finding their way to their natural habitats. A new study found that dropping the pH of seawater interfered with the fish‘s ability to sniff out environmental cues. Most research on the environmental impacts of acidification has focused on the vulnerability of shellfish, corals and crustaceans, whose shells are weakened and dissolved by acidic waters. But the latest findings show that fish may also be directly and profoundly affected [Wired News].

A little like the animated movie-star clown fish, Nemo’s real-life counterparts go out to sea upon hatching and some 12 days later must find their way back to a reef to settle down in an anemone home [Science News]. Researchers believe that the fish find their way by following odors in the water. In the new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [subscription required], researchers raised clown fish in tanks filled with water of varying pH, and then tested their ability to follow scents.

At a pH of 7.8, the larvae stopped following odour trails released by reefs and anemones. Instead, they homed in on scents they normally avoided, including those released by plants and other organisms which thrive in the wrong kinds of habitat for the fish…. At pH of 7.6, the larvae were unable to follow any kind of odour in the water, and instead swam in random directions [The Guardian]. But it’s not yet clear how the more acidic water interferes with the fish’s olfactory system.

The oceans have absorbed a great deal of carbon dioxide since humans began pumping the greenhouse gas into the air during the Industrial Revolution, and the dissolved carbon dioxide lowers the pH of seawater. The oceans currently have a pH of 8.1, but climate scientists say that could decline to 7.8 by the year 2100 if the carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated.

That doesn’t bode well for the clown fish, and maybe for many other fish that use odors to navigate, says study coauthor Philip Munday. The human-induced change is causing pH to decline at a rate more than 100 times faster than at any time in the past 650,000 years, Munday says. “It is unlikely that genetic adaption by most marine organisms, perhaps except those with very rapid generation times, will be able to adapt to keep pace with such a rapid rate of change” [ABC Science].

Related Content:
80beats: Warmer and More Acidic Oceans Spell Trouble for Jumbo Squid
80beats: Ocean Acidification: Worse Than the Big Problem We Thought It Was
80beats: In a More Acidic Ocean, Coral Reef “Skeletons” Could Crumble
DISCOVER: Ocean Acidification: A Global Case of Osteoporosis

Image: National Academy of Sciences, PNAS

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • http://greenestuniversity.blogspot.com jgogek

    Scientists from University of California San Diego have joined more than 150 colleagues from 26 countries in signing the Monaco Declaration, which warns the world that we must sharply reduce CO2 emissions or risk widespread and severe damage to marine ecosystems from ocean acidification.

    Ocean chemistry is changing 100 times more rapidly than in the 650,000 years that preceded the modern industrial era, according to researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Scripps scientists have recorded an overall drop in the pH of the oceans from 8.16 to 8.05.
    http://greenestuniversity.blogspot.com

  • http://www.aol.com Aton Klose

    I like nemo!!

  • Paul Nale

    Many, many people are still in denial that these profound changes are occuring to our atmosphere and ocean. To change their attitudes, we must educate the young. I hope we have time.

  • fadffa

    this is helpful

  • http://www.basic-directory.com Jack Robert

    That was a great blog. Most blogs are not even worth reading.

  • http://www.EDevMachine.com Samson G.

    Are you planning to blog more on this topic. I would like to learn more.

  • Shona Vemura

    this is xenu erinarians fault

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