High-latitude seas, which support a number of commercially important fisheries, are predicted to be most immediately impacted by ongoing ocean acidification (OA). Elevated CO2 levels have been shown to induce a range of impacts on the physiology and behavior of marine fish larvae. However, these responses have yet to be characterized for most fishery species, including Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus). Based on laboratory experiments, we present a multi-faceted analysis of the sensitivity of Pacific cod larvae to elevated CO2. Fish behavior in a horizontal light gradient was used to evaluate the sensitivity of behavioral phototaxis in 4–5 week old cod larvae. Fish at elevated CO2 levels (∼1500 and 2250 μatm) exhibited a stronger phototaxis (moved more quickly to regions of higher light levels) than fish at ambient CO2 levels (∼600 μatm). In an independent experiment, we examined the effects of elevated CO2 levels on growth of larval Pacific cod over the first 5 weeks of life under two different feeding treatments. Fish exposed to elevated CO2 levels (∼1700 μatm) were smaller and had lower lipid levels at 2 weeks of age than fish at low (ambient) CO2 levels (∼500 μatm). However, by 5 weeks of age, this effect had reversed: fish reared at elevated CO2 levels were slightly (but not significantly) larger and had higher total lipid levels and storage lipids than fish reared at low CO2. Fatty acid composition differed significantly between fish reared at high and low CO2 levels (p < 0.01) after 2 weeks of feeding, but this effect diminished by week 5. Effects of CO2 on FA composition of the larvae differed between the two diets, an effect possibly related more to dietary equilibrium and differential lipid class storage than a fundamental effect of CO2 on fatty acid metabolism. These experiments point to a stage-specific sensitivity of Pacific cod to the effects of OA. Further understanding of these effects will be required to predict the impacts on production of Pacific cod fisheries.
Hurst T. P., Copeman L. A., Haines S. A., Meredith S. D., Daniels K. & Hubbard K. M., in press. Elevated CO2 alters behavior, growth, and lipid composition of Pacific cod larvae. Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).