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Impacts of Elevated pCO2 on a Dominant Aragonitic Pteropod (Thecosomata) and its Specialist Predator (Gymnosomata) in the Ross Sea

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have resulted in greater oceanic uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide. Elevated partial pressure of carbon dioxide can impact marine organisms both via decreased carbonate saturation that affects calcification rates and via disturbance to acid-base (metabolic) physiology. Pteropod molluscs (Thecosomata) form shells made of aragonite, a type of calcium carbonate that is highly soluble, suggesting that these organisms may be particularly sensitive to increasing carbon dioxide and reduced carbonate ion concentration. Thecosome pteropods, which dominate the calcium carbonate export south of the Antarctic Polar Front, will be the first major group of marine calcifying organisms to experience carbonate undersaturation within parts of their present-day geographical ranges as a result of anthropogenic carbon dioxide. An unusual, co-evolved relationship between thecosomes and their specialized gymnosome predators provides a unique backdrop against which to assess the physiological and ecological importance of elevated partial pressure of carbon dioxide. Pteropods are functionally important components of the Antarctic ecosystem with potential to influence phytoplankton stocks, carbon export, and dimethyl sulfide levels that, in turn, influence global climate through ocean-atmosphere feedback loops. The research will quantify the impact of elevated carbon dioxide on a dominant aragonitic pteropod, Limacina helicina, and its specialist predator, the gymnosome Clione antarctica, in the Ross Sea through laboratory experimentation. Results will be disseminated broadly to enhance scientific understanding in this field. The project involves collaboration between researchers at a predominantly undergraduate institution with a significant enrollment of students that are typically underrepresented in the research environment (California State University San Marcos - CSUSM) and at a Ph.D.-granting institution (University of Rhode Island - URI). The program will promote education and learning through the joint education of undergraduate students and graduate students at CSUSM and URI as part of a research team, as well as through the teaching activities of the principal investigators. Dr. Keating, CSUSM professor of science education, will participate in the McMurdo fieldwork and lead the outreach opportunities for the project.

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