Uncovering Population-specific Resilience to Ocean Acidification in the Olympia Oyster

A Deep Dive into Our Latest Publication

September 15, 2023

A Deep Dive into Our Latest Publication

We are thrilled to share our latest research paper, “Population-specific effects of ocean acidification in the Olympia oyster,” authored by Laura H Spencer, Steven B Roberts, and Katherine Silliman. The study has recently been published in bioRxiv and sheds light on the mechanisms underlying population-specific responses of Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) to ocean acidification. This research is groundbreaking in illustrating how different populations of the same species can exhibit varying levels of resilience to environmental stressors like acidification, a crucial factor for both conservation and marine food system sustainability.

The Issue at Hand: Ocean Acidification

Ocean acidification is a growing concern that is having a detrimental impact on marine ecosystems globally. The increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are dissolving into our oceans, lowering their pH levels. Marine organisms like oysters are particularly vulnerable to such changes, as they rely on carbonate ions to build their shells. Understanding how different populations of marine species respond to this issue is key for effective conservation strategies and sustainable marine food systems.

Objectives and Methods

The study focused on three phenotypically distinct populations of Olympia oysters from Dabob Bay, Fidalgo Bay, and Oyster Bay, bred and reared in common conditions over four years. The team assessed various aspects such as growth, reproductive development, and transcriptional responses to ocean acidification within and across these populations.

Key Findings

  • Dabob Bay Population: Exhibited the slowest growth but had high survival rates. This population also mounted the largest transcriptional response to acidification without affecting its growth and reproduction.

  • Fidalgo Bay Population: Exhibited the fastest growth rate but had the lowest fecundity. This population showed a moderate transcriptional response to acidification.

  • Oyster Bay Population: Had the highest fecundity but the lowest survival rates. Interestingly, this population did not respond at the transcript level and was the only group where acidification negatively affected growth and reproductive development.

  • Next Generation Impact: Acidification did not affect gene expression in the larval stage for any population, although the Oyster Bay population produced larger larvae, which might partly mitigate the negative effects of acidification.

Why This Matters

The findings are revolutionary for several reasons:

  1. Conservation Implications: Populations with distinct resilience levels offer natural reservoirs of biodiversity that can be targeted for conservation efforts.

  2. Food System Sustainability: Understanding population-specific traits can help in developing more resilient aquaculture practices.

  3. Genetic Insights: The study identified specific genes in the Dabob Bay population related to antibacterial and antiviral processes, metabolism, growth, and reproduction, providing crucial clues into the mechanisms of stress tolerance.

  4. Microscale Variability: The research underscores that distinct physiotypes can exist among marine invertebrate populations even on small geographic scales, which has far-reaching implications for species resilience to environmental stressors.

Moving Forward

The research paves the way for future studies that can focus on leveraging these population-specific responses for the betterment of marine ecosystems and human needs. The identified genetic markers can also be used in selective breeding programs to improve resilience against ocean acidification.


Laura H Spencer, Steven B Roberts, Katherine Silliman, “Population-specific effects of ocean acidification in the Olympia oyster,” bioRxiv 2023.09.08.556443; doi: 10.1101/2023.09.08.556443

Feel free to dive into the full paper for a more detailed understanding of our findings.