We already know that carbon-dioxide-filled, acidic ocean water is no-good, very-bad news for mussels and other underwater shelled creatures, causing their shells to dissolve. But, as these things so often go, it turns out that climate change is even worse for bivalves than we thought: It’s unleashing an awkward kind of anti-puberty on them. They’re growing smaller and weaker, and now we find out that they’re basically losing their hair.
New research published in the journal Nature shows that mussels’ proteinaceuous byssal threads — the little stringy bits that allow them to stick their bodies on stuff — are particularly susceptible to ocean acidification. The researchers found mussels’ little stringy bits were 40 percent weaker when exposed to elevated CO2 levels, even when their shell strength and tissue growth weren’t affected.
“Byssal threads are non-calcified structures, yet the researchers found that as carbon dioxide levels increased, the byssal threads snapped more easily,” Think Progress reports. “It’s a hard life for a mussel when it can’t attach itself to the ocean floor.”
It also might be a hard life for us if those mussels lose their muscles. Bivalves filter water and even act as a shoreline buffer against storm surges. Mussels in particular are “often referred to as a foundation species,” says University of Washington biology professor Emily Carrington. Mussel cultivation is also a $1.5 billion industry — at least for now.