Increased sensitivity of subantarctic marine invertebrates to copper under a changing climate - Effects of salinity and temperature



Publication Details

Holan, J. R., King, C. K., Proctor, A. H. & Davis, A. R. (2019). Increased sensitivity of subantarctic marine invertebrates to copper under a changing climate - Effects of salinity and temperature. Environmental Pollution, 249 54-62.


Stressors associated with climate change and contaminants, resulting from the activities of humans, are affecting organisms and ecosystems globally. Previous studies suggest that the unique characteristics of polar biota, such as slower metabolisms and growth, and the generally stable conditions in their natural environment, cause higher susceptibility to contamination and climate change than those in temperate and tropical areas. We investigated the effects of increased temperature and decreased salinity on copper toxicity in four subantarctic marine invertebrates using realistic projected conditions under a future climatic change scenario for this region. We hypothesised that these relatively subtle shifts in environmental stressors would impact the sensitivity of cold-adapted species to copper. The four test species were: a copepod Harpacticus sp.; isopod Limnoria stephenseni; flatworm Obrimoposthia ohlini; and bivalve Gaimardia trapesina. These species occupy a range of ecological niches, spanning intertidal and subtidal nearshore zones. We predicted that species would differ in their tolerance to stressors, depending on where they occurred within this ecological gradient. Organisms were exposed to the multiple stressors in a factorial design in laboratory based toxicity tests. Sensitivity estimates for copper (LC50) were calculated using a novel statistical approach which directly assessed the impacts of the multiple stressors. In three of the four species tested, sensitivity to copper was amplified by small increases in temperature (2-4 °C). The effects of salinity were more variable but a decrease of as little as 2 ppt caused a significant effect in one species. This study provides some of the first evidence that high latitude species may be at increased risk from contaminants under projected future climate conditions. This interaction, between contaminants and the abiotic environment, highlights a potential pathway to biodiversity loss under a changing climate.

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