New NSF award to study effects of Ocean Acidification

PISCO researchers and collaborators received a major award from National Science Foundation to study the impacts of acidic ocean waters on indicator “sentinel” species. A three-year, $2-million grant, will help scientists understand the impacts of ocean acidification on two ecologically important species (sea urchins and mussels) in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Using a consortium approach, the multi-institutional research team comprises investigators with expertise in molecular genetics, molecular physiology, biochemistry, physical and chemical oceanography, and marine ecology:

  • Oregon State University: 
    • Bruce Menge (lead PI for project), Jack Barth, Francis Chan
  • University of California, Davis:

    purple sea urchin

    Purple Sea Urchin
    Photo credit: KD Lafferty, USGS

    • Eric Sanford, Brian Gaylord, Tessa Hill, Ann Russell
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute:
    • Francisco Chavez
  • University of California, Santa Cruz:
    • Pete Raimondi
  • University of Hawaii, Manoa:
    • Margaret McManus
  • Stanford University, Hopkins Marine Station:
    • Steve Palumbi
  • University of California, Santa Barbara:
    • Gretchen Hofmann, Carol Blanchette, Libe Washburn

Title of Project:

Acclimation and adaptation to ocean acidification of key ecosystem components in the California Current System

About the Project:


Photo credit: KD Lafferty, USGS

This project will investigate the impacts of ocean acidification on two ecologically important marine species in relation to variation in carbonate chemistry in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem. Investigators from seven institutions will collaborate to study urchins and mussels at two sites in Oregon and six sites in California, taking advantage of the differing levels of ocean acidification along the West Coast. Using a network of shore-based sites and coastal moorings that are equipped with sensors to measure ocean chemistry and biological responses, scientists gather data to understand the ecological, physiological, and evolutionary responses of sea urchins and mussels. Lab and field investigations will be integrated to understand the ecological, physiological, and evolutionary responses of sea urchins and mussels to spatial and temporal variation in ocean acidification. Using these findings, scientists will be able to work to decipher the genetics and physiology underlying the observed biological responses.

The researchers' theory is that these organisms have adapted over time to variation in the ocean chemistry, but the increase in carbon dioxide may be pushing their limit. “They already may be close to their acclimatization or adaptational capacity,” lead Principal Investigator Menge pointed out, “and thus may have limited ability to respond to additional increases in CO2. For the first time, we will be able to examine the genetics and ecology of these key organisms to see how populations that span over a thousand miles of coastline are coping with changes in ocean chemistry.”

This effort strongly complements other studies focused on ocean acidification in the northern California and Oregon region and provides critical ecosystem monitoring and research in coastal waters. For more information about Ocean Acidification:

Contact: Kristen Milligan, PISCO Program Coordinator

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