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Professor Rod Wilson, co-author of new research on ocean acidification. (Photo: University of Exeter/FIS)

Ocean acidification impact on males and females needs further analysis

  (UNITED KINGDOM, 3/1/2017)

Less than 4 per cent of climate-change studies have tested the impact of ocean acidification on males and females separately, according to the latest research by the University of Exeter in collaboration with Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

In this regard, climate change biologist Professor Rod Wilson, co-author of the study, stated that in light of this research separate environmental management strategies may be required.

“For marine animal populations to thrive and support sustainable fisheries, the males and females of each species need to reach sexual maturity, and deliver their eggs and sperm in the right place and at the right time,” Professor Wilson pointed out.

He also stressed that the needs of the two sexes during their development are often quite different and that environmental management can potentially devise separate strategies to target key phases in the lifecycle of males and females, respectively, with the aim of minimising the influence of climate change on their development and ultimately the success of the species.

According to Dr Rob Ellis, an ecological physiologist also based at the University of Exeter, understanding climate change impacts is vital to help protect marine ecosystem services that humans rely on so heavily such as fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.

“Our understanding of these threats has improved significantly over the past decade, but this is still a very new and rapidly evolving field. Many important questions still remain, and sex-based differences will be a key issue with the potential to influence our strategies to mitigate against climate change,” Dr Ellis said.

Meanwhile, co-author of the study Dr Ana Queirós, a climate change and seabed ecologist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said ignoring potential differences in how males and females respond has implications for managing the future ocean.

“At present, our best informed guess of how climate change and ocean acidification will impact species in the wild, marine diversity, and our uses of them for instance through fisheries and aquaculture, depends on numerical model forecasts,” Dr Queirós detailed.

In her opinion, these models are only as good as the data used to build them and sufficient evidence exists to believe that in some species, males and females will respond very differently to climate change and associated stressors because of natural physiological processes.

“We do not know if all species will show these differences. It is therefore time we started taking this question more seriously into consideration in the design of our experiments and of our models. Without this, we may severely underestimate the impact of climate change on wildlife and vital sectors of the ocean based economy," the scientist added.

This research forms part of a wider scientific response to a recent House of Commons select committee enquiry on ocean acidification submitted by the University of Exeter, led by Dr Ceri Lewis.

“Our research is vital for understanding the challenges that climate change poses for marine ecosystems. In light of recent political events globally, it has never been more important to ensure society is accurately educated and informed about the very real threat that is climate change. This enquiry and the evidence it presents is just a single crucial step in this process,” Dr Lewis concluded.
 


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