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Climate change is causing profound effects in all corners of planet Earth.
Huntsman sits on the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest-warming ocean regions on the planet. Sea temperatures near St Andrews reached their highest recorded in 2022. At Huntsman Marine this observation was particularly noticed as our pumped ashore incoming seawater did not drop below 4 °C during that winter (but often gets close to 0 °C in a typical winter).
Huntsman Marine research activities across our four primary disciplines intersect the effects of climate change on ecosystem community assemblages, production performance & animal health in aquaculture operations, and oil spill toxicity in increasing seawater temperature.
Climate change is causing profound environmental shifts in every habitat on Earth. In the ocean, these changes include increasing seawater temperature as the entire planet warms, acidification as more carbon dioxide is absorbed, and alterations to complex ocean current systems that move vast quantities of seawater and regulate our weather. The direct impact of climate change on species living in the ocean and the additive effects of climate change with other human activities are the focus of important ongoing research at The Huntsman Marine Science Centre.
All four of our research disciplines have contributed to our collective understanding on the effects of a changing climate environment:
Taxonomy & Biodiversity – Increasing seawater temperature is causing many dramatic shifts in population structures and species assemblages throughout ocean habitats. For example, species may shift their ranges towards the cooler poles or into deeper water in response to increasing temperatures and life cycle stages may also shift in timing to affect food chains. The Huntsman Marine dive team has re-surveyed dozens of sites throughout the western Bay of Fundy region that were initially surveyed more than 40 years ago. Our results have shown shifts in the species encountered with some northern species totally missing from our present results. Some new invasive species are now apparently thriving where once their reproduction was limited by cold winter temperatures. In another project, we are collaborating with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to examine the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on scallops, an important commercial species for the region.
Toxicology – Seawater temperature may affect the relative toxicity of certain compounds on vulnerable life stages of marine species. Huntsman Marine toxicology research have studied the effects of crude oil and its constituent compounds on larval American lobsters in different temperatures. Our results show that increasing seawater temperature affects heart rate (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2023.114976) and survival (https://doi.org/10.1002/etc.5719) while exposed to crude oil and individual compounds in environmentally relevant seawater temperatures, especially in the coming years due to climate change. Our results are used within international oil spill models to ensure these tools are reliable and able to predict effects under a wide range of climate conditions.
Breeding & Genetics – Cultured fish in the marine environment, such as Atlantic salmon, must be able to tolerate rising seawater temperature in the face of climate change. Huntsman Marine research provided the first ever heritability estimates and description of the genetic architecture related to increasing seawater temperature tolerance in North American origin Atlantic salmon (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquaculture.2023.740020). The results suggest selection of families for warming seawater temperature tolerance is possible. We also determined a positive genetic correlation with body size suggesting that selecting for seawater temperature tolerance will not be detrimental to growth. Unfortunately, we did not discover any specific genetic markers associated with seawater temperature tolerance in this specific year class but we are aware that different year classes often provide varying results with many traits. However, family based genetic selection is still possible to make gains in a commercial breeding program.
Animal Health – Environmental conditions, including seawater temperature, may affect health responses when exposed to certain pathogens. Huntsman Marine multi-collaborator research has demonstrated this with the infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus in Atlantic salmon (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsirep.2023.100099). From this research, Atlantic salmon maintained at 20 °C had more acute mortality, but overall mortality rates were higher at 10 °C. Identified genes were expressed differently between exposed and unexposed fish and at different temperatures; thereby, indicating a possibility to manage ISA virus seasonally, within breeding programs, and in the context of increasing ocean temperature due to climate change.
Research described in this Impact Spotlight was funded through several different projects by private sector Study Sponsors, New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, and Genome Canada.
Reach out to The Huntsman Marine Science Centre if you have any questions:
Explore more Huntsman Marine Impact Spotlights here!
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