Science & Tech

Lobster larvae show effects of climate change

  • Jun 23, 2015
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Lobster larvae. (Photo: Jesica Waller)
Lobster larvae. (Photo: Jesica Waller)
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A University of Maine marine biology graduate student whose preliminary research has shown that the growth of lobster larvae slows in warmer and more acidic waters will travel to Prince Edward Island in the fall to study climate-change related genetic changes in the crustacean. “We’ll be looking at differences in gene expression — which genes are turned on or off — in larvae raised in the conditions they would expect today and the conditions they would experience in 2100,” Jesica Waller said. She will conduct the work with Spencer Greenwood, a professor in the department of biomedical sciences at the University of Prince Edward Island’s Atlantic Veterinary College. Waller used similar conditions in her earlier work testing lobster larvae from the Gulf of Maine. She found that larvae raised in the warmer, more acidic waters expected 85 years from now grew to the same size and length as larvae raised in cooler, less acidic water, but had significantly decreased respiration rates. “We wondered if a lower respiration rate means they would have a lower swimming speed,” she said, a factor which could affect the lobster’s prey-catching ability. Scientists have identified the Gulf of Maine as a body of water that’s getting warmer and more acidic faster than anywhere else in the world. Canada and the United States share the waters of the gulf, which has long been an important area for a host of fisheries, including the lobster fishery. In recent years, warmer waters have contributed to an overabundance of lobster in the region, but that could change if warming continues. “We don’t really know how the changes we’re seeing are going to impact marine species, especially species of economic importance such as the lobster,” said Waller, adding that some marine scientists and lobstermen have noticed that lobsters already appear to be on the move. “We suspect that the temperature has been the driving factor in their shift to go deeper and farther offshore.”

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