A team of scientists led by Plymouth University, that included colleagues from the Naples Zoological Station in Ischia; the Marine Ecology Laboratory ENEA in La Spezia, Italy; the University of Texas Galveston; and the University of Hull, reported the results of a three year study of the adaptations that allow some species of polychaete worms to survive high levels of carbon dioxide in the Aug. 26, 2013, issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
The researchers collected and studied the physiology of a species of polychaetes that live around the underwater carbon dioxide vent of Ischia in Italy.
The species that lived in the carbon dioxide vent were found to be able to regulate their metabolic rate in the acidic conditions created by high levels of carbon dioxide. Very similar species that lived in the waters near the carbon dioxide vents could not adapt to the high acidity near the vent.
Those worms that could survive were smaller than other species. This indicates a sacrifice of size in preference to a situation where the cost of growth was too high to sustain life at a larger size.
The researchers express some hope for the adaptation of more species to higher levels of carbon dioxide and acidity as climate change continues but observe that the species man depends on for food and sport in the oceans of the world may be altered significantly.
This research is the first evidence that any marine mammal can genetically and physiologically adapt to high levels of carbon dioxide and survive.