Ocean acidification could impede Chilean abalone's ability to self-right

Abalone.  they aren't the prettiest of things, but they are a popular food choice.  They are also an ecologically important species, so understanding how they may react to ocean acidification is an important consideration. It seems under many species that use calcium carbonate to to build their shells (and indeed corals who use it for building their 'skeletons') will find it more difficult to gather the minerals they need to do so under increasing acidification.  How badly they are affected is species specific, so finding out that the Chilean abalone Concholepas concholepas (also known as loco) calcification rates aren't adversely altered isn't unheard of.  Turns out, that acidification has another affect on these molluscs....their ability to self-right after dislodgement.

In this open access paper, Dr Patricio H. Manríquez from the Instituto de Ciencias Marinas y Limnológicas in Chile and colleagues report that as our oceans become increasingly more acidic the  young abalone find it easier to get off their backs on on their front.  This is a really important skill.  These critters attach themselves to rocks in often high-energy wave environments.  That means its rough and wild, and they are always at risk from being knocked off a rock.  Now their shells are great at protecting them from a range of predators but when their soft, tasty underbelly is exposed there isn't much they can do to protect themselves.

The story doesn't end there though.  It seems the speed at which these critters self-right is partly determined by the presence of predators.  If a predator is present, then they will self-right much faster then when it is absent.  Of course they need to know a predator is present initiate this faster self-righting and unfortunately under acidic conditions, the ability of juvenile loco to detect predators is reduced.

So what's the future for the loco in light of ocean acidification?  Well, its a little hard to tell.  This paper demonstrates that there is no one simple response to changes in ocean chemistry.  Some species will most certainly fare better than others, and some species will do better in some respects, and worse in others. And of course there are the knock-on effects, like how will the predators of these loco do in the face of changing behaviours of their prey?

Since the paper is open access, why not have a read of it yourself

Image: Photographic sequence (A–H) illustrating self-righting behavior in the gastropod Concholepas concholepas.  Taken from the paper.