Climate Change Alters How Some Animals Reproduce

Written by on September 9, 2015 in Invertebrates, Marine Life

When we think about marine life that will be impacted by climate change, most of us probably think about polar animals that are losing sea ice, coral that bleaches in the heat, or maybe even mussels and all the shelled organisms that struggle with ocean acidification. Few of us, however, probably think about worms. But a new study from Plymouth University shows that some marine worms are changing the way they reproduce to adjust to their changing environment.

Underwater volcano about to explode. Photo credit: NOAA and NSF.

Underwater volcano about to explode. Photo credit: NOAA and NSF.

While many species of polychaete worms release their eggs into the sea (called “broadcast spawning”), researchers recently discovered that polychaete worms living around volcanic vents in the Mediterranean “exhibit a tendency to nurture their offspring” by growing and developing them as a family unit (called “brooding”) when carbon dioxide levels are higher.

“One of the most interesting annelid worms here typically grows to around 3cm in length and is found on the seafloor. It was previously thought that their breeding is triggered by a full moon, when they swim up to the surface and release – or ‘broadcast’ – their eggs,” Plymouth University researcher Noelle Lucey explained in a news release. “But our studies at the CO2 vents off Ischia have found something very different: those species living near the volcanic vents, in waters rich in carbon dioxide, seem to have adapted to the harsher conditions by brooding their offspring.”

The researchers found that 12 of the 13 species living in the high CO2 vent area exhibited brooding behaviors, producing fewer but larger eggs that were encased “in some form of protective sac.”

“Our study confirms the idea that marine organisms have evolved brooding characteristics in response to environmental stresses, such as ocean acidification,” said Dr. Piero Calosi, from the University of Quebec.

These findings will help researchers understand which marine species will be better able to adapt to their changing environment, which is critical for establishing effective management and conservation strategies.

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Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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  1. Guy Harvey Magazine has used this excellent article for our website! Credit was given.