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Direct, carryover, and maternal effects of ocean acidification on snow crab embryos and larvae

Citation: Long WC, Swiney KM, Foy RJ (2023) Direct, carryover, and maternal effects of ocean acidification on snow crab embryos and larvae. PLOS ONE 18(10): e0276360.

Ocean acidification, a decrease in ocean pH with increasing anthropogenic CO2 concentrations, is expected to affect many marine animals. To examine the effects of decreased pH on snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio), a commercial species in Alaska, we reared ovigerous females in one of three treatments: Ambient pH (~8.1), pH 7.8, and pH 7.5, through two annual reproductive cycles. Morphometric changes during development and hatching success were measured for embryos both years and calcification was measured for the adult females at the end of the 2-year experiment. Embryos and larvae analyzed in year one were from oocytes developed, fertilized, and extruded in situ, whereas embryos and larvae in year two were from oocytes developed, fertilized, and extruded under acidified conditions in the laboratory. In both years, larvae were exposed to the same pH treatments in a fully crossed experimental design. Starvation-survival, morphology, condition, and calcium/magnesium content were assessed for larvae. Embryo morphology during development, hatching success, and fecundity were unaffected by pH during both years. Percent calcium in adult females’ carapaces did not differ among treatments at the end of the experiment. In the first year, starvation-survival of larvae reared at Ambient pH but hatched from embryos reared at reduced pH was lowered; however, the negative effect was eliminated when the larvae were reared at reduced pH. In the second year, there was no direct effect of either embryo or larval pH treatment, but larvae reared as embryos at reduced pH survived longer if reared at reduced pH. Treatment either did not affect other measured larval parameters, or effect sizes were small. The results from this two-year study suggest that snow crabs are well adapted to projected ocean pH levels within the next two centuries, although other life-history stages still need to be examined for sensitivity and potential interactive effects with increasing temperatures should be investigated.

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The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:


Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare


Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
       More for Taking Community Action