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Potential for resilience—Examining the effects of ocean acidification on native Alaskan bivalves


Amanda Kelley Amanda KelleyCollege of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences
University of Alaska Fairbanks



No experimental work exists that characterizes the response of native Alaska bivalves to conditions of ocean acidification. Here, researchers will investigate the physiological responses of two juvenile clam species, the basket cockle (Clinocardium nuttallii) and the littleneck clam (Protothaca staminea), to pH/pCO2 conditions predicted for the year 2100 (based on International Panel on Climate Change models). Comparing the physiological responses of two species at the same life-­history stage allow us to identify the "winners" or "losers" in the face of ocean change. To characterize the environmental conditions that exist for these species, seasonal sampling of in-­sediment pore water carbonate parameters (total alkalinity, pH, pCO2 and aragonite/calcite saturation) will be measured at sites that currently support clam populations. An important subsistence species for Alaska Natives, these clams also function as a recreational harvest species of interest for a wide variety of stakeholders. What’s more, anecdotal evidence suggests that Alaska clam populations are shrinking, with no known cause. Conducting field measurements of pH may elucidate areas that are "pH hotspots" where pH levels are corrosive and prove to inhibit clam growth and performance.


The issue

This project will serve as a foundation for future research on other important Alaska bivalves and will provide a better understanding of which Alaska clam species may be susceptible or resilient to conditions of ocean acidification. In doing so we can characterize the environmental sensitivities and thresholds that exist for key Alaskan species in coastal communities in response to climate change. Understanding the biological impacts that ocean change may have on species that are of subsistence and recreational importance is paramount to providing resource managers and policy makers with sound science to base natural resources management decisions. It is a crucial step to ensure the persistence of these marine resources for generations to come.

Why is this an Alaska Sea Grant project?

This project aligns with three of Alaska Sea Grant’s critical program areas: 1) healthy coastal ecosystems, 2) sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and 3) resilient communities and economies. Addressing questions regarding the effects that climate change can have on key subsistence species will have lasting impacts on the utilization and persistence of these marine resources now and in the future here in Alaska. The work will directly address questions about the health of coastal ecosystems and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture by describing the resilience or susceptibility of two subsistence clam species in response to ocean acidification. Determining these species ability to persevere under very real future climate scenarios is critical for sustaining their role as recreational and subsistence food sources. What’s more, understanding the potential impacts of ocean change on key subsistence species is also an integral part of ensuring the persistence of resilient communities and economies.

Research collaborators

Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery
LEO Network
Kachemak Bay Estuarine Research Reserve