Effects of Ocean Acidification on Coastal Marine Organisms

The survival of many of our favorite coastal organisms is constrained by the integrity of their structural components.  Is their shell strong enough to deter predators?  Is their attachment to rock secure in the face of strong waves and currents?  What will happen to coastal marine communities as changing environmental conditions, such as ocean acidification or warming, alter the way key biomaterials are manufactured and maintained? These are the questions guiding our team of marine biomaterials experts at Friday Harbor Labs, led by Emily Carrington in collaboration with Michael (Moose) O’Donnell and Patrick Martone.  The impetus for the research, funded by the National Science Foundation, comes from our recent insights into the seasonal dynamics of wave-swept mussel populations; their ability to manufacture strong tethers (byssal threads) can be compromised dramatically by various environmental and physiological demands, to the point where mussels can be washed away readily by even modest storms. Clearly, the structural integrity of a mussel is constrained by environmental conditions; this project applies this ecomaterials perspective to the emerging problem of ocean acidification. Our research targets a suite of organisms (including mussels, oysters, sea urchins, and calcified and non-calicified red algae) each with one or more well-known biomaterials that serve a critical ecological function.