Trossulus byssus mussels.
Emily Carrington
Trossulus byssus mussels.

Scientists from the University of Washington have found evidence that ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions can prevent mussels attaching themselves to rocks and other substrates, making them easy targets for predators and threatening the mussel farming industry.

“A strong attachment is literally a mussel’s lifeline,” said UW biology professor Emily Carrington, who presented these findings July 6 at a meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology.

Mussels attach themselves to hard surfaces so that they can filter plankton from seawater for food. They generally live in tidal zones, where strong waves and currents protect them from predators such as crabs, fish and sea stars. But if a mussel falls off its perch, it sinks down into calmer waters where it is readily eaten.

Future conditions may make it more difficult for mussels to attach themselves and stay out of harm’s way. This is because the pH level appears to be critical during the attachment process, and our oceans are becoming more acidic from absorbing atmospheric CO2 emissions.

“Our early laboratory studies showed mussels made weaker attachment threads when seawater pH dropped below 7.6,” said Carrington, who is based primarily at the College of the Environment’s Friday Harbor Laboratories.

Read more at UW Today »