Monday, January 16, 2012
Reef Fish at Risk as Carbon Dioxide Levels Build
An increase in CO2 interferes with the ability of the fish to hear, smell, turn and evade predators.
RISING carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions threaten the survival of some fish species by sending their central nervous systems haywire.
Researchers from the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University say concentrations of CO2 are predicted to reach between 700 and 900 microatmospheres before the end of the century, interfering with the ability of the fish to hear, smell, turn and evade predators.
''It is now pretty clear that they sustain significant disruption to their central nervous system, which is likely to impair their chances of survival,'' Professor Philip Munday said yesterday.
Advertisement: Story continues below
''We've found that elevated carbon dioxide in the oceans can directly interfere with fish neurotransmitter functions, which poses a direct and previously unknown threat to sea life.''
The team examined how baby clown and damsel fish and their predators dealt with water enriched by carbon dioxide. While the predators were slightly affected, the baby fish suffered to a much greater degree.
''They found it harder to locate a reef to settle on or detect the warning smell of a predator fish,'' Professor Monday said. The team looked more closely and found the hearing of the fish was affected as well as its smell. Then they started to lose their natural instinct to turn left and right.
''All this led us to suspect it wasn't simply damage to their individual senses that was going on but rather that higher levels of CO2 were affecting their whole central nervous system.''
The team concluded that high levels of carbon dioxide stimulates a receptor in the fishes' brains called GABA-A. The receptor's function is reversed and some nerve signals become overexcited.