Anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 reacts with water to form carbonic acid (H2CO3) which increases water acidity. While marine acidification has received recent consideration, less attention has been paid to the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide on freshwater systems—systems that often have low buffering potential. Since many aquatic systems are already impacted by pollutants such as heavy metals, we wondered about the added effect of rising atmospheric CO2 on freshwater organisms. We studied aquatic pulmonate snails (Physella columbiana) from both a heavy-metal polluted watershed and snails from a reference watershed that has not experienced mining pollution. We used gaseous CO2 to increase water acidity and we then measured changes in antipredatory behavior and also survival. We predicted a simple negative additive effect of low pH. We hypothesized that snails from metal-polluted environments would be physiologically stressed and impaired due to defense responses against heavy metals. Instead, snails from populations that acclimated or evolved in the presence of heavy metal mining pollution were more robust to acidic conditions than were snails from reference habitats. Snails from mining polluted sites seemed to be preadapted to a low pH environment. Their short-term survival in acidic conditions was better than snails from reference sites that lacked metal pollution. In fact, the 48 h survival of snails from polluted sites was so high that it did not significantly differ from the 24 h survival of snails from control sites. This suggests that the response of organisms to a world with rising anthropogenic carbon dioxide levels may be complex and difficult to predict. Snails had a weaker behavioral response to stressful stimuli if kept for 1 month at a pH that differed from their lake of origin. We found that snails raised at a pH of 5.5 had a weaker response (less of a decrease in activity) to concentrated heavy metals than did snails raised at their natal pH of 6.5. Furthermore, snails raised a pH of 5.5, 6.0, and 7.0 all had a weaker antipredatory response to an extract of crushed snail cells than did the pH 6.5 treatment snails.
snails, carbon dioxide, climate change, heavy metals, behavior
Biology | Chemistry
Lefcort, H., Cleary, D.A., Marble, A.M. et al. Snails from heavy-metal polluted environments have reduced sensitivity to carbon dioxide-induced acidity. SpringerPlus4, 267 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40064-015-1073-9
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