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Study: Blue crab larvae harmed by low oxygen, high acidity

Stony Brook University researchers simulated conditions in degraded estuaries to assess the effects on larval crabs and found they died at increased rates.

By David M. Schwartz

Updated December 16, 2018 6:00 AM

Blue crab larvae died at greater rates in waters with higher acidity and lower oxygen levels — conditions likely to intensify with climate change and increased nitrogen, according to a new study by Stony Brook University researchers.

While the impacts of low oxygen on marine life have been studied, the research is the first to assess the consequences of these two stressors on larval crabs, the authors said. High acidity, or low pH, and low oxygen, known as hypoxia, are worst in summer, when blue crabs are breeding, according to the peer-reviewed paper published in the online journal PLOS One.

The effects could offset a predicted boon for Long Island's blue crab population caused by warming waters, authors said.

The Stony Brook study used egg-carrying female crabs collected in Shinnecock Bay and shipped from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and subjected the larvae to pH and oxygen levels that could be found in back bays.

"We wanted to simulate real-world conditions in degraded estuaries," said lead author Stephen Tomasetti, a doctoral student at the university's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

The tasty crustaceans, also known as blue claw crabs, are found up and down the East Coast, including in the Island's bays and harbors. From 2010 through 2016, commercial fishermen in the United States had an annual catch worth at least $175 million, according to federal statistics cited in the paper.

The research was conducted in the lab of Christopher Gobler, a professor in the school. He and students Brooke Morrell and Lucas Merlo were co-authors.

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