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As part of an experimental process, scientists with the Hakai Institute on Quadra Island, British Columbia, induce bay mussels (Mytilus trossulus) to release their sperm and eggs. During my visit to the lab, I waited around for a long time with nothing happening until, suddenly, multiple mussels all started spawning at once. I quickly transferred this female into a glass beaker where I could better light it for a macrophotograph. I like this shot as it has an otherworldly look to it. When photographed up-close, so many creatures—this mussel included—look like they belong in a galaxy far, far away. The mussel continued to release hundreds of thousands of tiny eggs over a couple of hours.
The Hakai Institute researchers are hoping to determine how ocean acidification impacts the resilience of young mussels. Do adults under stress produce offspring that are genetically better suited to endure acidic conditions? Or larvae that are weak? Investigating this question will help scientists better predict how shellfish will fare as oceans become more acidic. Mussels provide physical structure to their environments and habitat for other organisms, modify the chemistry of the ecosystem, and are a foundation of the food chain, so any changes to future generations could have, as one researcher says, “ripple effects across the ecosystem.”
See this mussel in action.