Ocean acidification alters the material properties of Mytilus edulis shells

Susan C. Fitzer, Wenzhong Zhu, K. Elizabeth Tanner, Vernon R. Phoenix, Nicholas A. Kamenos, Maggie Cusack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Ocean acidification (OA) and the resultant changing carbonate saturation states is threatening the formation of calcium carbonate shells and exoskeletons of marine organisms. The production of biominerals in such organisms relies on the availability of carbonate and the ability of the organism to biomineralize in changing environments. To understand how biomineralizers will respond to OA the common blue mussel, Mytilus edulis, was cultured at projected levels of pCO2 (380, 550, 750, 1000 µatm) and increased temperatures (ambient, ambient plus 2°C). Nanoindentation (a single mussel shell) and microhardness testing were used to assess the material properties of the shells. Young's modulus (E), hardness (H) and toughness (KIC) were measured in mussel shells grown in multiple stressor conditions. OA caused mussels to produce shell calcite that is stiffer (higher modulus of elasticity) and harder than shells grown in control conditions. The outer shell (calcite) is more brittle in OA conditions while the inner shell (aragonite) is softer and less stiff in shells grown under OA conditions. Combining increasing ocean pCO2 and temperatures as projected for future global ocean appears to reduce the impact of increasing pCO2 on the material properties of the mussel shell. OA may cause changes in shell material properties that could prove problematic under predation scenarios for the mussels; however, this may be partially mitigated by increasing temperature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20141227
Number of pages8
Issue number103
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • biomineralization
  • CO
  • multiple stressors
  • mussels
  • ocean acidification
  • temperature


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