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Our ecosystem approach

We study the impact of ocean acidification on two ecological important, calcification-dependent marine invertebrates (sea urchins and mussels) in relation to local-to-coastal variation in carbonate chemistry in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME).

  • An interdisciplinary team of investigators with expertise in physical and chemical oceanography, marine ecology, biochemistry, molecular physiology, and molecular genetics carry-out integrated, lab and field, multi-site investigations of the ecological, physiological, and evolutionary responses of sea urchins and mussels to spatial and temporal variation in OA.  
  • Our research is within an environmental mosaic of variable oceanography, including recently documented latitudinal variation in carbonate chemistry along the upwelling-dominated US west coast.  Different upwelling regimes from Washington to southern California generate spatial and temporal gradients in concentrations of CO2 that shoal to surface waters during upwelling events, extending shoreward into the inner shelf region. 
  • Using a mixture of cutting-edge genomics, other molecular approaches, and growth experiments, we study the mechanistic abilities of calcifying invertebrates to acclimate or adapt to increasing CO2 .  Because calcifiers in the upwelling-dominated CCLME probably have historically experienced wide fluctuations in pH, many likely are adapted to a variable carbonate chemistry environment.  The new challenge to these organisms is that they may have limited ability to respond to additional increases in CO.   With our  integrated molecular, physiological, oceanographic, and ecological research, we will be able to understand the capacities of calcifying organisms to adjust, acclimate, and adapt to these predicted future changes in ocean chemistry. 

Scientific Elements

Our research includes several integrated elements. 

  1. Document the oceanographic context in which the study organisms operate in four regions of the CCLME with contrasting upwelling regimes, and a wide range of differences in carbonate chemistry. 
  2. Examine physiological, genomic, and genetic mechanisms underlying acclimatization and adapation to OA conditions with coordinated and integrated studies of adults and larvae of sea urchins and mussels collected from each of two sites within each of the four regions.  In common-garden experiments culture sea urchins and mussels, respectively, under different CO2and temperature regimes, and use genomics techniques to determine the tolerance of larvae to present and future OA conditions. 
  3. Determine evolutionary responses and adaptational potential to OA using genetic surveys of urchins and mussels across the 8 sites and relate detected variability to the oceanographic conditions. 
  4. Examine ecological responses to OA with transplants of mussels and urchins in the field and monitor growth rates and shell accretion rates in relation to oceanographic and physical conditions.