A mineralogical record of ocean change: Decadal and centennial patterns in the California mussel

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Abstract

Ocean acidification, a product of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, may already have affected calcified organisms in the coastal zone, such as bivalves and other shellfish. Understanding species’ responses to climate change requires the context of long-term dynamics. This can be particularly difficult given the longevity of many important species in contrast with the relatively rapid onset of environmental changes. Here, we present a unique archival dataset of mussel shells from a locale with recent environmental monitoring and historical climate reconstructions. We compare shell structure and composition in modern mussels, mussels from the 1970s, and mussel shells dating back to 1000–2420 years BP. Shell mineralogy has changed dramatically over the past 15 years, despite evidence for consistent mineral structure in the California mussel, Mytilus californianus, over the prior 2500 years. We present evidence for increased disorder in the calcium carbonate shells of mussels and greater variability between individuals. These changes in the last decade contrast markedly from a background of consistent shell mineralogy for centuries. Our results use an archival record of natural specimens to provide centennial-scale context for altered minerology and variability in shell features as a response to acidification stress and illustrate the utility of long-term studies and archival records in global change ecology. Increased variability between individuals is an emerging pattern in climate change responses, which may equally expose the vulnerability of organisms and the potential of populations for resilience.

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