The effects of intermittent exposure to low-pH and low-oxygen conditions on survival and growth of juvenile red abalone
Abstract. Exposure of nearshore animals to hypoxic, low-pH waters upwelled from below the continental shelf and advected near the coast may be stressful to marine organisms and lead to impaired physiological performance. We mimicked upwelling conditions in the laboratory and tested the effect of fluctuating exposure to water with low-pH and/or low-oxygen levels on the mortality and growth of juvenile red abalone (Haliotis rufescens, shell length 5–10 mm). Mortality rates of juvenile abalone exposed to low-pH (7.5, total scale) and low-O2 (40% saturation, mg L−1) conditions for periods of 3 to 6 h every 3–5 days over 2 weeks did not differ from those exposed to control conditions (O2: 100% saturation, 12 mg L−1; pH 8.0). However, when exposure was extended to 24 h, twice over a 15-day period, juveniles experienced 5–20% higher mortality in the low-oxygen treatments compared to control conditions. Growth rates were reduced significantly when juveniles were exposed to low-oxygen and low-pH treatments. Furthermore, individual variation of growth rate increased when juveniles were exposed simultaneously to low-pH and low-O2 conditions. These results indicate that prolonged exposure to low-oxygen levels is detrimental for the survival of red abalone, whereas pH is a crucial factor for their growth. However, the high individual variation in growth rate under low levels of both pH and oxygen suggests that cryptic phenotypic plasticity may promote resistance to prolonged upwelling conditions by a portion of the population.