- Schwemmer, T.S., Baumann, H., Murray, C.S., Molina, A.I., and Nye, J. (2020) Synergistic metabolic responses of embryos, but not larvae, of a coastal forage fish to acidification and hypoxia. Journal of Experimental Biology 223:jeb228015
31 August 2020. The Baumann Lab is growing again and happy to welcome Max Zavell and David Riser as new graduate students to our lab!
Max Zavell just started on his journey as a PhD student in fall 2020, after graduating the same May with his Bachelor from the University of Rhode Island. Max is interested to work experimentally and continue exploring questions of coastal fish and climate change. In addition to continue working with Atlantic Silverside (Menidia menidia), his work will break new ground for our lab by starting with a new species for in our lab: Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata). Growth and physiology of this northernmost grouper species is of interest, given its recent, explosive increase in abundance in Long Island Sound.
David Riser started his Masters in September 2020 after graduating with his Bachelor from the University of Connecticut and a Major in Marine Sciences. David already looks back on a successful career in the US Coast Guard, but now ventures to develop academic chops and expertise. In close collaboration with CTDEEP, he will analyze time series of Black Sea Bass catches in Long Island Sound and begin collecting and aging adult Black Sea Bass using otoliths.
Welcome from all of us!
By Kelli Mosca.
3 July 2020. Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus) is an endangered, long-lived, anadromous fish that is found along the North American coast from the St. Lawrence River (Canada) to the St. John’s River (Florida). Historically, Atlantic sturgeon spawned in the Connecticut River, but until recently spawning populations were thought to be extirpated. In June 2020, a small, very young and therefore likely pre-migratory specimen (253mm) was captured by CTDEEP in the Connecticut River (above). This discovery is only the second after the first occurrence of small sturgeon in 2014! Together, this may be the beginning of a small Atlantic Sturgeon population rediscovering their long-lost spawning ground in the Connecticut River. CTDEEP and the Baumann Lab are working to find more fish of this size- and year class, and answer related questions about surgeon age and size and migration patterns. (CT SeaGrant project)
27 July 2020. Big and proud congratulations to Chris Murray, who published his last big chunk of data from his PhD research on the effects of marine climate change on coastal marine fish. The publication in PLOS One synthesized 3 years of multiple, long-term experiments on Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia) demonstrating consistent negative growth effects on high CO2 conditions. However, sometimes it takes more than just looking at means and standard deviations to elucidate these effects. Hence, in this paper, shift functions analyzing the different percentiles of distributions are employed.
Murray, C.S. and Baumann, H. (2020) Are long-term growth responses to elevated pCO2 sex-specific in fish? PLOS One 15:e0235817
The publication was featured in UConn Today “UConn Research: More Carbon in the Ocean Can Lead to Smaller Fish”
By Elaina Hancock
As humans continue to send large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, much of that carbon is absorbed by the ocean, and UConn researchers have found high CO2 concentrations in water can make fish grow smaller.
Researchers Christopher Murray PhD ’19, now at the University of Washington, and UConn Associate Professor of Marine Sciences Hannes Baumann have published their findings in the Public Library of Science (PLoS One).
“The ocean takes up quite a bit of CO2. Estimates are that it takes up about one-third to one-half of all CO2 emissions to date,” says Murray. “It does a fantastic job of buffering the atmosphere but the consequence is ocean acidification.”
Life relies on chemical reactions and even a slight change in pH can impede the normal physiological functions of some marine organisms; therefore, the ocean’s buffering effect may be good for land-dwellers, but not so good for ocean inhabitants.
Baumann explains that in the study of ocean acidification (or OA), researchers have tended to assume fish are too mobile and tolerant of heightened CO2 levels to be adversely impacted.
“Fish are really active, robust animals with fantastic acid/base regulatory capacity,” says Murray. “So when OA was emerging as a major ocean stressor, the assumption was that fish are going to be OK, [since] they are not like bivalves or sea urchins or some of the other animals showing early sensitivities.”
The research needed for drawing such conclusions requires long-term studies that measure potential differences between test conditions. With fish, this is no easy task, says Baumann, largely due to logistical difficulties in rearing fish in laboratory settings.
“For instance, many previous experiments may not have seen the adverse effects on fish growth, because they incidentally have given fish larvae too much food. This is often done to keep these fragile little larvae alive, but the problem is that fish may eat their way out of trouble — they overcompensate – so you come away from your experiment thinking that fish growth is no different under future ocean conditions,” says Baumann.
In other words, if fish are consuming more calories because their bodies are working harder to cope with stressors like high CO2 levels, a large food ration would mask any growth deficits.
Additionally, previous studies that concluded fish are not impacted by high CO2 levels involved long-lived species of commercial interest. Baumann and Murray overcame this hurdle by using a small, shorter-lived fish called the Atlantic silverside so they could study the fish across its life cycle. They conducted several independent experiments over the course of three years. The fish were reared under controlled conditions from the moment the eggs were fertilized until they were about 4 months old to see if there were cumulative effects of living in higher CO2 conditions.
Murray explains, “We tested two CO2 levels, present-day levels and the maximum level of CO2 we would see in the ocean in 300 years under a worst-case emissions scenario. The caveat to that is that silversides spawn and develop as larvae and early juveniles in coastal systems that are prone to biochemical swings in CO2 and therefore the fish are well-adapted to these swings.”
The maximum CO2 level applied in the experiments is one aspect that makes this research novel, says Murray,
“That is another important difference between our study and other studies that focus on long-term effects; almost all studies to date have used a lower CO2 level that corresponds with predictions for the global ocean at the end of this century, while we applied this maximum level. So it is not surprising that other studies that used longer-lived animals during relatively short durations have not really found any effects. We used levels that are relevant for the environment where our experimental species actually occurs.”
Baumann and Murray hypothesized that there would be small, yet cumulative, effects to measure. They also expected fish living in sub-ideal temperatures would experience more stress related to the high CO2 concentrations and that female fish would experience the greatest growth deficits.
The researchers also used the opportunity to study if there were sex-determination impacts on the population in the varying CO2 conditions. Sex-determination in Atlantic silversides depends on temperature, but the influence of seawater pH is unknown. In some freshwater fish, low pH conditions produce more males in the population. However, they did not find any evidence of the high CO2 levels impacting sex differentiation in the population. And the growth males and females appeared to be equally affected by high CO2.
“What we found is a pretty consistent response in that if you rear these fish under ideal conditions and feed them pretty controlled amounts of food, not over-feeding them, high CO2 conditions do reduce their growth in measurable amounts,” says Murray.
They found a growth deficit of between five and ten percent, which Murray says amounts to only a few millimeters overall, but the results are consistent. The fish living at less ideal temperatures and more CO2 experienced greater reductions in growth.
Murray concludes that by addressing potential shortcomings of previous studies, the data are clear: “Previous studies have probably underestimated the effects on fish growth. What our paper is demonstrating is that indeed if you expose these fish to high CO2 for a significant part of their life cycle, there is a measurable reduction in their growth. This is the most important finding of the paper.”
This work was funded by the National Science Foundation grant number OCE #1536165. You can follow the researchers on Twitter @baumannlab1 and @CMurray187.
29 April 2020. Despite the lockdown and the virus, this is a joyful day for the Baumann lab – an unassumingly delivered note from the Provost – and both the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new era of Life and Science.
I’m grateful to so many people who aided this path along the way. Zosia, the boys, family, friends, and the many scientific mentors along the way.
This is a truly good day, not belittling the crisis & death all around us.
The publication of this article was featured by UConn Today on 24 March 2020.
This work represents the first comprehensive assessment of this important forage fish in the Northwest Atlantic, though similar efforts have been carried out in the Pacific Northwest and Europe. In the Atlantic, sand lance are observed to be a significant food source for the federally endangered Roseate tern, Atlantic sturgeon and cod, Harbor and Grey seals and Minke and Humpback whales. “This paper is a call to our peers and colleagues that there is a big gap in knowledge, and to bring more attention to these species as unmanaged forage fish,” says Staudinger.
Staudinger, M., Goyert, H., Suca, J., Coleman, K., Welch, L., Llopiz, J., Wiley, D., Altman, I., Applegate, A., Auster, P., Baumann, H., Beaty, J., Boelke, D., Kaufman, L., Loring, P., Moxley, J., Paton, S., Powers, K., Richardson, D.E., Robbins, J., Runge, J., Smith, B.E., Spiegel, C., and Steinmetz, H. (2020)
The role of sand lances (Ammodytes sp.) in the Northwest Atlantic Ecosystem: a synthesis of current knowledge with implications for conservation and management
Fish and Fisheries (published online 20 March 2020)
To learn more, head over to the project page.
Baumann, H., Savoy, T., Benway, J., and Pacileo, D. 2020. A re-emergent spawning population of Atlantic Sturgeon in the Connecticut River? Combined age analyses and telemetry data will provide new insights. Connecticut Sea Grant Program (NOAA) #R/LR-29, Feb 2020 - Feb 2022 ($150,000)
Pringle, J.W. and Baumann, H. (2019) Otolith-based growth reconstructions in young-of-year Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia) and their implications for sex-selective survival. Marine Ecology Progress Series 632:193-204
From the abstract:
“We examined the utility of otolith microstructure analysis in young-of-year (YoY) Atlantic silversides Menidia menidia, an important annual forage fish species along the North American Atlantic coast. We first compared the known hatch window of a local population (Long Island Sound, USA) to otolith-derived hatch distributions, finding that YoY collected in October were reliably aged whereas survivors from November and December were progressively under- aged, likely due to the onset of winter ring formation. In all collections, males outnumbered fe- males, and both sexes had bimodal size distributions. However, while small and large females were almost evenly represented (~60 and ~40%, respectively), over 94% of all males belonged to the small size group. We then examined increment widths as proxies for somatic growth, which suggested that bimodal size distributions resulted from 2 distinct slow- and fast-growing YoY phe- notypes. Length back-calculations of October YoY confirmed this, because fast- and slow-growing phenotypes arose within common bi-weekly hatch intervals. We concluded that the partial sexual size dimorphism in this population resulted largely from sex-specific growth differences and not primarily from earlier female than male hatch dates, as predicted by the well-studied phenome- non of temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) in this species. Furthermore, observed sex ratios were considerably less male-biased than reconstructed thermal histories and published laboratory TSD values predicted. Assuming that selective mortality is generally biased against slower growing individuals, this process would predominantly remove male silversides from the population and explain the more balanced sex ratios at the end of the growing season.”
From the executive summary:
“The equilibrium state of the ocean-atmosphere system has been perturbed these last few decades with the ocean becoming a source of oxygen for the atmosphere even though its oxygen inventory is only ~0.6% of that of the atmosphere. Different analyses conclude that the global ocean oxygen content has decreased by 1-2% since the middle of the 20th century. Global warming is expected to have contributed to this decrease, directly because the solubility of oxygen in warmer waters decreases, and indirectly through changes in the physical and biogeochemical dynamics.”
From the summary of chapter 6:
- Human activities have altered not only the oxygen content of the coastal and open ocean, but also a variety of other physical, chemical and biological conditions that can have negative effects on physiological and ecological processes. As a result, marine systems are under intense and increasing pressure from multiple stressors.
- The combined effects of ‘stressors’ can be greater than, less than, or different from the sum of each stressor alone, and there are large uncertainties surrounding their combined effects.
- Warming, acidification, disease, and fisheries mortality are important common stressors that can have negative effects in combination with low oxygen.
- Warming, deoxygenation, and acidification commonly co-occur because they share common causes. Increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions simultaneously warm, deoxygenate, and acidify marine systems, and nutrient pollution increases the severity of deoxygenation and acidification.
- A better understanding of the effects of multiple stressors on ocean ecosystems should improve the development of effective strategies to reduce the problem of deoxygenation and aid in identifying adaptive strategies to protect species and processes threatened by oxygen decline.
Access the full report from IUCN.org
- Breitburg, D.L., Baumann, H., Sokolova, I.M., and Frieder, C.A. (2019)
Chapter 6. Multiple stressors – forces that combine to worsen deoxygenation and its effects.
In: Ocean deoxygenation: everyone’s problem. Causes, impacts, consequences and solutions
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Report xxii, 562p.