Effects of ocean acidification on learning in coral reef fishes CQU.pdf (427.56 kB)

Effects of Ocean Acidification on Learning in Coral Reef Fishes

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-08-07, 02:00 authored by MCO Ferrari, Rachel ManassaRachel Manassa, DL Dixson, PL Munday, MI McCormick, MG Meekan, A Sih, DP Chivers
Ocean acidification has the potential to cause dramatic changes in marine ecosystems. Larval damselfish exposed to concentrations of CO2 predicted to occur in the mid- to late-century show maladaptive responses to predator cues. However, there is considerable variation both within and between species in CO2 effects, whereby some individuals are unaffected at particular CO2 concentrations while others show maladaptive responses to predator odour. Our goal was to test whether learning via chemical or visual information would be impaired by ocean acidification and ultimately, whether learning can mitigate the effects of ocean acidification by restoring the appropriate responses of prey to predators. Using two highly efficient and widespread mechanisms for predator learning, we compared the behaviour of pre-settlement damselfish Pomacentrus amboinensis that were exposed to 440 matm CO2 (current day levels) or 850 matm CO2, a concentration predicted to occur in the ocean before the end of this century. We found that, regardless of the method of learning, damselfish exposed to elevated CO2 failed to learn to respond appropriately to a common predator, the dottyback, Pseudochromis fuscus. To determine whether the lack of response was due to a failure in learning or rather a short-term shift in trade-offs preventing the fish from displaying overt antipredator responses, we conditioned 440 or 700 matm-CO2 fish to learn to recognize a dottyback as a predator using injured conspecific cues, as in Experiment 1. When tested one day post conditioning, CO2 exposed fish failed to respond to predator odour. When tested 5 days post conditioning, CO2 exposed fish still failed to show an antipredator response to the dottyback odour, despite the fact that both control and CO2-treated fish responded to a general risk cue (injured conspecific cues). These results indicate that exposure to CO2 may alter the cognitive ability of juvenile fish and render learning ineffective.


Category 1 - Australian Competitive Grants (this includes ARC, NHMRC)



Browman H





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Public Library of Science

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CC BY 4.0

Peer Reviewed

  • Yes

Open Access

  • Yes

Acceptance Date


External Author Affiliations

University of California; James Cook University; Australian Institute of Marine Science; University of Saskatchewan

Era Eligible

  • Yes