A new study by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) has shown that the Antarctic wing is resistant to the increasing acidification of the ocean because it absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere due to anthropogenic carbon emissions.
Wing is one of the most endangered organisms on earth and a critical part of the marine ecosystem of the southern ocean.
Although previous studies have shown that some life-threatening phases of the Antarctic wing may be susceptible to ocean acid, research published in Communications Biologists has shown that adult wings were largely not affected by the level of oxygen depletion predicted for the next 100-300 years.
A researcher, IMAS PhD student Jess Ericson, said the long-lasting laboratory study was the first of its kind.
"Our study has shown that adult wings can survive, grow and mature when they are exposed to acidification levels that can be expected this century for up to a year," Ericson said.
"We have grown adult wings in laboratory tanks for 46 weeks in seawater with a range of pH values, including those in today's day, levels predicted within 100-300 years, and to an extreme level.
"We measured a series of physiological and biochemical variables to investigate how future acidification can affect survival, size, lipid storage, reproduction, metabolism and extracellular leafage.
"Our results show that their physiological processes are largely unchanged by levels of pH that are expected to confront in the next century.
"Adult wings that we were tracking were able to actively maintain the balance of acids on the bases of their body fluids, as the pH levels of sea water decreased, increasing their resistance to acidification of the ocean."
Ms. Ericson said the conclusion was important because they had a key link in the Antarctic food chain.
"The ocean acidification caused by anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions is predicted to occur most rapidly in high latitudes, such as in the Southern Ocean.
"The wings are the main prey for marine mammals and seabirds, and any reduction in their abundance as a result of acidification of the ocean can lead to significant changes in the ecosystem of the South Ocean and Antarctic.
It is known that the increase in acidity in the ocean has negative effects on a number of marine invertebrates, which leads to a reduction in mineralization or dissolution of calcium carbonate bivalve, reduced or delayed growth, increased mortality and delayed reproduction or abnormalities in descendants, including the embryonic development of the Antarctic wing.
"Our conclusion that the adult Antarctic wing seems resistant to such conditions is therefore an interesting and significant result.
"However, the wings' resistance in the variable ocean will also depend on how they react to acidification of the ocean in synergy with other stressors, such as ocean warming and reduced sea ice," Ericson said.
The study included researchers from ACE CRC, CSIRO ocean and atmosphere, the Australian Antarctic Division and Aker Biomarine in Norway.
Picture for credit: Wendy Piper.
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