Jumping snails left grounded in future oceans

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Posted on January 8, 2014
Jumping snails left grounded in future oceans

Sea snails that leap to escape their predators may soon lose their extraordinary jumping ability because of rising human carbon dioxide emissions, a team of international scientists has discovered.

Lead author of the study published today, Dr Sue-Ann Watson from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) and James Cook University observed that the conch snail, which uses a strong foot to leap away from approaching predators, either stops jumping, or takes longer to jump, when exposed to the levels of carbon dioxide projected for the end of this century.

Dr Watson explains that increased carbon dioxide and ocean acidification levels disrupt a particular neurotransmitter receptor in the snail’s nervous system, delaying vital decision-making on escape. This leaves the snail more vulnerable to the poisonous dart of its slow-moving nemesis, the marbled cone shell.

The effects may be quite profound. “Altered behaviours between predators and prey have the potential to disrupt ocean food webs,” Dr Watson said.

While this study shows that disrupted decision-making with elevated carbon dioxide levels can occur in marine invertebrates, scientists have also observed similar effects before, in fish.

Read more at: Phys.org