Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Volcano mussels and the future of the ocean

Wall Street Journal scientist columnist Robert Lee Hotz has an article featuring research by University of Victoria marine biologist Verena Tunnicliffe, one of my favorite scientists. Her team looked at mussels collected from the undersea volcano of Eifuku, near the Mariana Islands, an area where the volcano's sulfur chimneys render the water acidic.

From the column:

"To her surprise, Dr. Tunnicliffe found that mussel shells she collected at Eifuku were so thin that she and her colleagues could see right through them. The water chemistry made it impossible for the mussels to extract enough calcium carbonate to form a proper covering. Compared with shells of the same species collected in more normal waters, "they were half the thickness and half the weight," she said.

"To live in these inhospitable conditions, the mollusks cannibalized their own shells, leaching from them the carbonate needed to maintain their internal muscle chemistry. "They are dissolving whatever shell they do have," says Dr. Tunnicliffe at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. They manage to survive despite their weakened shells, the scientists speculated, because the water's harsh chemistry is too much for the hard-shell crabs that prey on these mussels elsewhere.

"When the mussels die, their wafer-thin shells disintegrate even faster than their soft tissues can decay."

The research may offer clues for whats in store if the oceans of the world continue to become more acidic.

Via Marine Conservation News

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