Another 'fish story' about ocean acidification where researchers fool themselves into thinking they are actually doing science

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Coral Reef at Dobu Island, Milne Bay, PNG, with carbon dioxide bubbling through it (photo: Bob Halstead)

Readers may recall this previous fish story: CO2 increases to make drunken clownfish

Well, Danielle Dixon and Philip Munday are at it again.  This PR claim from the Georgia Institute of Technology  Fish from acidic ocean waters less able to smell predators smells fishy to me. Just ask any salt-water aquariaist how hard it is to simulate the ocean in a fish tank and keep the fish from being stressed.

The failure of this claim is clear when you watch the video below, showing natural CO2 bubbles coming off the sea floor in Milne Bay, in Papua New Guinea. They use this as the “control” for the experiment, according to the caption, when they should be using a normal reef and doing the experiments in situ. Instead, they transport these fish back to the the mobile lab (on a boat), perform experiments, and assume there is no difference in the environment that may contribute to behavioral differences. They apparently don’t stop to consider that BOTH groups of fish in the mobile lab might be stressed the same way. Worse, there’s no mention of transporting fish caught at a non-bubbling reef back to the mobile lab so that they can perform the same test on them and compare differences if any. Instead they say:  “The results do show that what Dixson and colleagues found in the lab matches with what is seen in the field.”

They simply ignored the most obvious control group test and did no actual in situ experiment.

Then there’s the most obvious question they didn’t ask: if CO2 affects the fish behavior so poorly, making them more susceptible to predators how is it that they observe “Contrary to expectations, fish diversity and community structure differed little between CO2 seeps and nearby control reefs.”. How would the fishes near CO2 bubbling reefs survive if their predator response was adversely affected. They claim there’s less predators near the CO2 bubbling reefs. Well hello! Wouldn’t that mean the fish were conditioned by their lower predator environment to be less afraid of predators to start with and CO2 may not play a role at all?

It is such a spectacular failure of the scientific method I don’t know how this got past peer review.

And, not only is the science sloppy the press release is also sloppy, with no name of the paper, DOI, or other citation given. I had to call the PIO and ask for it.

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Oddly behaving fish from a CO2 seep confirm laboratory experiments

Fish living on coral reefs where carbon dioxide seeps from the ocean floor were less able to detect predator odor than fish from normal coral reefs, according to a new study.

The study confirms laboratory experiments showing that the behavior of reef fishes can be seriously affected by increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the ocean. The new study is the first to analyze the sensory impairment of fish from CO2 seeps, where pH is similar to what climate models forecast for surface waters by the turn of the century.

“These results verify our laboratory findings,” said Danielle Dixson, an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “There’s no difference between the fish treated with CO2 in the lab in tests for chemical senses versus the fish we caught and tested from the CO2 reef.”

 

VIDEO: Scientists collected fish from the coral reefs shown here and found that fish from the more acidic waters of the bubble reefs were less likely to detect the odor of…

Click here for more information.

The research was published in the April 13 Advance Online Publication of the journal Nature Climate Change. Philip Munday, from James Cook University in Australia, was the study’s lead author. The work was supported by the Australian Institute for Marine Science, a Grant for Research and Exploration by the National Geographic Society, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The pH of normal ocean surface water is around 8.14. The new study examined fish from so-called bubble reefs at a natural CO2 seep in Papua New Guinea, where the pH is 7.8 on average. With today’s greenhouse gas emissions, climate models forecast pH 7.8 for ocean surface waters by 2100, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“We were able to test long-term realistic effects in this environment,” Dixson said. “One problem with ocean acidification research is that it’s all laboratory based, or you’re testing something that’s going to happen in a 100 years with fish that are from the present day, which is not actually accurate.”

Previous research had led to speculation that ocean acidification might not harm fish if they could buffer their tissues in acidified water by changing their bicarbonate levels. Munday and Dixson were the first to show that fishes’ sensory systems are impaired under ocean acidification conditions in the laboratory.

IMAGE: Juvenile fishes from a carbon dioxide seep, such as damselfishes (pictured above), were less able to detect predator odor than fishes from a control coral reef, according to a new…Click here for more information.

“They can smell but they can’t distinguish between chemical cues,” Dixson said.

Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed into ocean waters, where it dissolves and lowers the pH of the water. Acidic waters affect fish behavior by disrupting a specific receptor in the nervous system, called GABAA, which is present in most marine organisms with a nervous system. When GABAA stops working, neurons stop firing properly.

Coral reef habitat studies have found that CO2-induced behavioral changes, similar to those observed in the new study, increase mortality from predation by more than fivefold in newly settled fish.

Fish can smell a fish that eats another fish and will avoid water containing the scent. In Dixson’s laboratory experiments, control fish given the choice between swimming in normal water or water spiked with the smell of a predator will choose the normal water. But fish raised in water acidified with carbon dioxide will choose to spend time in the predator-scented water.

Juvenile fish living at the carbon dioxide seep and brought onto a boat for behavior testing had nearly the identical predator sensing impairment as juvenile fish reared at similar CO2 levels in the lab, the new study found.

The fish from the bubble reef were also bolder. In one experiment, the team measured how far the fish roamed from a shelter and then created a disturbance to send the fish back to the shelter. Fish from the CO2 seep emerged from the shelter at least six times sooner than the control fish after the disturbance.

Despite the dramatic effects of high CO2 on fish behaviors, relatively few differences in species richness, species composition and relative abundances of fish were found between the CO2 seep and the control reef.

“The fish are metabolically the same between the control reef and the CO2 reef,” Dixson said. “At this point, we have only seen effects on their behavior.”

The researchers did find that the number of large predatory fishes was lower at the CO2 seep compared to the control reef, which could offset the increased risk of mortality due to the fishes’ abnormal behavior, the researchers said.

In future work, the research team will test if fish could adapt or acclimate to acidic waters. They will first determine if the fish born at the bubble reef are the ones living there as adults, or if baby fish from the control reef are swimming to the bubble reef.

“Whether or not this sensory effect is happening generationally is something that we don’t know,” Dixson said.

The results do show that what Dixson and colleagues found in the lab matches with what is seen in the field.

“It’s a step in the right direction in terms of answering ocean acidification problems.” Dixson said. “The alternative is just to wait 100 years. At least now we might prepare for what might be happening.”

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This research is supported by the Australian Institute for Marine Science, a Grant for Research and Exploration by the National Geographic Society, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. Any conclusions or opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring agencies.

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Abstract:

Behavioural impairment in reef fishes caused by ocean acidification at CO2 seeps

Philip L. Munday, Alistair J. Cheal, Danielle L. Dixson, Jodie L. Rummer & Katharina E. Fabricius

Nature Climate Change (2014) doi:10.1038/nclimate2195

Experiments have shown that the behaviour of reef fishes can be seriously affected by projected future carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the ocean1, 2, 3, 4. However, whether fish can acclimate to elevated CO2 over the longer term, and the consequences of altered behaviour on the structure of fish communities, are unknown. We used marine CO2 seeps in Papua New Guinea as a natural laboratory to test these questions. Here we show that juvenile reef fishes at CO2 seeps exhibit behavioural abnormalities similar to those seen in laboratory experiments. Fish from CO2 seeps were attracted to predator odour, did not distinguish between odours of different habitats, and exhibited bolder behaviour than fish from control reefs. High CO2 did not, however, have any effect on metabolic rate or aerobic performance. Contrary to expectations, fish diversity and community structure differed little between CO2 seeps and nearby control reefs. Differences in abundances of some fishes could be driven by the different coral community at CO2 seeps rather than by the direct effects of high CO2. Our results suggest that recruitment of juvenile fish from outside the seeps, along with fewer predators within the seeps, is currently sufficient to offset any negative effects of high CO2 within the seeps. However, continuous exposure does not reduce the effect of high CO2 on behaviour in natural reef habitat, and this could be a serious problem for fish communities in the future when ocean acidification becomes widespread as a result of continued uptake of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2195.html

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Related:

The fishes and the coral live happily in the CO2 bubble plume

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R. Shearer

I suppose if those fish were thirsty, they would prefer to drink Perrier.

JimS

April Fool’s day is long past, so this means I must have mistakenly side-stepped to The Onion instead of WUWT.
Seriously though, if research like this was done on their own dime, it would not matter too much and it would be just good for a laugh; but it looks like this was a formal scientific study paid for by taxpayers.

njsnowfan

Bubbling reefs would be similar to predators that use air bubbles to drive fish in circles to eat them Fish are not dumb and reef fish would get use to bubbles and lack of preditors Bubbles would make it harded for them to see predators when they do come into the area.
Their control should of included the first week of placing bubblers around the reefs, I bet the fish were scared until they got use to them.

njsnowfan

Bubbling reefs would be similar to predators that use air bubbles to drive fish in circles to eat them Fish are not dumb and reef fish would get use to bubbles and lack of preditors Bubbles would make it harded for them to see predators when they do come into the area.
Their control should of included the first week of placing bubblers around the reefs, I bet the fish were scared until they got use to them.

Of course it cannot be due to the fact that they were raised without the usual predators. Nah! Every one is scared of a saber tooth tiger and area always sniffing the air for them.

Robert W Turner

And predator fish don’t use smell themselves to locate prey, they are now using crank telephones.

Latitude

they (georgia) keep producing this crap just to embarrass the hell out of the rest of us……..

hunter

More faux science, like that from the lobster kid, designed to basically see if angels, dancing on the head of a pin in a high CO2 bell jar, prefer the can-can or the limbo.

MikeUK

I’ve checked on Google, nobody is asking about the sulfur dioxide produced by volcanoes, that may well be the source of the acidification (actually lowered alkalinity).
They must have been excited when all these marine biologists headed out to these “CO2 seeps” looking for dead things. Many late night at Big Green HQ when they found no real problems. So they grab some of the poor fish and test them until they finding “something wrong”. Poor science, poor journalism, is WUWT the only place talking sense?

It’s this whole ‘ocean acidification’ thing that gets me. The oceans are not acid, never have been, never will be and cannot be. It’s disingenuous at best and downright deceitful. If scientists wish to communicate their work, they have a duty to do it honestly and without any ambiguity, especially to the casual reader, i.e. when they ‘know’ it will be reported in the MSM. To use the term ‘acidification’ is done deliberately to create an alarmist picture, but it destroys any trust we can have in them or their work.
Anyone commanding a public position must present and represent their own and others information and data with honesty and integrity.

MikeUK

Might be worth trying to get this guy to provide a follow-up article:
http://www.halsteaddiving.com/adult-section-stories/global-fawning/the-shell-game/

John Robertson

So, fresh water fish must be at a terrible disadvantage…we obviously need to salt the lakes and rivers to help them smell better!
Or would fish who live in areas where the CO2 content is different not be able to work out that the area is more dangerous and avoid it? If they don’t avoid it then there is no increased risk to the fish. Only to fish researchers grants…

“It is such a spectacular failure of the scientific method I don’t know how this got past peer review.”
Easy:
If it supports or blames CAGW by CO2, then proper peer review is suspended and “climate change peer review” is in effect.

Gary

Sounds like this research is worthy of this children’s joke:
Q. How do you keep fish from smelling?
A. Cut off their noses?

Latitude

Fish from acidic ocean waters less able to smell predators…
Ok, you guys have had enough time already….and not one word about the corals….in the acidic ocean water with CO2 bubbling up through them.
You can’t lower the pH until you use up all of the buffer!

How did it get past peer review? Well, as everyone knows what the right answer should be and they got the right answer, where’s the problem? You are not one of those deniers are you?

This reminds me of all of the benchtop “experiments” where they say ocean acidification is a fact. They just take some acidic water and toss a piece of chalk in there. “SEE, THE OCEANS ARE GOING TO DIE!” Yeah, sure, real great science there people.

Rick

CO2 is seeping from the ocean floor? Somebody get a rag to stuff in there to stop it up, we’re dying here!!
So an obvious follow up question would be: why are there less predators? Do the predators have more trouble smelling with the extra CO2 present to detect prey, or are they distracted from the constant moving bubble and unable to pin point prey?
And if the predators are also at a disadvantage because of CO2, aren’t we still maintaining equilibrium?
Are the seeps exclusively CO2, or are there other chemicals mixed in that might affect smell more than simply CO2?
It is amazing how these are all done solely to prove the point no matter how much the test and the results have to be twisted to fit, not to actually test any theories.

PMT

and I thought it was careless Dolphins that were causing tetrodonic acidification of the oceans

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetrodotoxin

“We beat 40 fish to death with a yellow, fibreglass tripod. Two days later we beat 36 fish to death with an ordinary, unpainted maple baseball bat. It was the CO2, & we’re scientists, so shut up.”

Scorp1us

This remind me of the old joke. “It has been found that laboratory testing causes cancer in rats”. On a more serious note, they have documented that laboratory rats develop psychosis from the laboratory conditions, meaning that any kind of mental observations are questionable. The only way is to continually get fresh rats.

ossqss

Have they checked how many earthquakes happen in that particular area? That would make me more vunerable too, just like those fish! They have to be dizzy half of the time.
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/world/png/seismicity.php

Another foolish attempt at trying to make people believe that 0,04% CO2 in the air will cause the oceans to become more ‘acidic’. The oceans already have more then 50 times higher concentration of CO2 that the air, moreover HCO3- rules the carbon balance in the oceans. And as every schoolboy knows, the oceans will pump out CO2 if they were to heat, as water releases gases of all kinds as it warms.
Qite to the contrary of these IPCC/UN funded make-believe reports, the oceans are not becoming more acidic, and they will not eiter, in the coming 100 years. There is no cause for alarm, the cons. CO2 will have to become much higher than today, with no global warming, for the oceans to start absorbing CO2.
How can people that claim CO2 warms the atmosphere (and thereby the oceans) at the same time claim that rising CO2 lowers ocean pH? If oceans warms, as a cause of rising CO2, they will release CO2. So these people need to do one of two: 1) Give up the claim that CO2 rises temperature, or 2) Give up the claim that increase of CO2 in the air lowers ocean pH.
They are trying to kill two birds with one stone, but they end up throwing their stone, and killing their own claims. This is hogwash, and these rediculous claims have been refuted repeatedly since the Royal Society in England tried the same balloony in 2008.

Latitude

Lars, or more simply…the carbonate reacts with CO2 to form bicarbonate
You can’t lower the pH until you run out of buffer.

Science, we hardly knew ye.

The only acid going on is that which these nutters are eating.

george e. smith

If they were less able to detect predator odor, then they would all get eaten so the reef would be fishless.
Just for kicks, did they by any chance also check the predators in this CO2 laced water to ascertain whether or not they were stupid too, and couldn’t detect prey odor ??
Did they check that; huh; did they ??

Jimbo

In future work, the research team will test if fish could adapt or acclimate to acidic waters.

We also have…….

Abstract
…..High CO2 did not, however, have any effect on metabolic rate or aerobic performance. Contrary to expectations, fish diversity and community structure differed little between CO2 seeps and nearby control reefs……

Maybe they have stumbled on the answer.
Now check out this UNREALISTIC experiment. Acclimatisation does not stand a chance. Eighty six is could be an entirely different matter, they don’t know.

Abstract
Reduced early life growth and survival in a fish in direct response to increased carbon dioxide
….When compared with present-day CO2 levels (~400 ppm), exposure of M. beryllina embryos to ~1,000 ppm until one week post-hatch reduced average survival and length by 74% and 18%, respectively……
http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v2/n1/abs/nclimate1291.html

Doh!

Jimbo

Correction
Eighty six years could be an entirely different matter, they don’t know.

Rud Istvan

I have written a rather exhaustive essay on this, half published over at Climate Etc. last year on oysters. Milne Bay is a famous dive locale. Each seep is different. The problem all the Dobu Island seeps have is H2S, since Dobu is an inactive volcano. See the previous SI for the previous data, and the Seattle Times for the false amplification.
There are at least two obvious problems with this new Milne seep paper. First, waters in the immediate seep vicinity are lethally toxic. H2S to sea life is as cyanide to us, for the same hemotoxic reasons. And it is the H2S, not the CO2, that lowers pH so much. The ‘Bubble Bath’ at Dobu has a pH of 6.7 on the seep, yet is surrounded by thriving coral reef a few feet away. Google.
Second, transects no more than 5 meters away from these seeps did not display any toxicity. You know, the ocean is a big place where stuff gets diluted fast. And waves. And currents. And…
Now how,exactly, did these juvenile fish manage to swim only in a restricted range close to toxic seeps? Last time I checked, fish swim about widely to find food and get away from bad stuff– poisons, predators, fishermen like me…
The stupidity here burns… Any common sense would show this to be more ridiculous stuff.
Please, any divers out there to confirm how stupid this is ??

BioBob

The logic or lack thereof burns….
“Despite the dramatic effects of high CO2 on fish behaviors, relatively few differences in species richness, species composition and relative abundances of fish were found between the CO2 seep and the control reef.”
In the famous words of Hillary “What difference, at this point, does it make?” if, in the immortal words of Obama, “the police [fish] acted stupidly”
ROFL

If you are going to debunk this study, try to write credibly. It’s hard for me to agree that this study is sloppy when you, the source, are writing like mud. You are also spelling names wrong making you even less legit. F+ for wasted time.

Pat Frank

I thought ocean CO2 “acidification” was going to exterminate the calcifiers. So how is it that there’s a reef at all around a pH 7.8 CO2 seep, much less a thriving reef with all sorts of species diversity?
By the way, Rud, H2S is even more toxic to we mammals than is cyanide. It’s just we can smell the stuff at 1 ppb in air and get away.

george e. conant

I saw this story on Yahoo news last night and almost posted comment there but I just couldn’t. As others have already posted here that the oceans can’t be acidifying, due to the endless buffering of dissolved minerals in the oceans. Oceans can maybe become less alkaline, this latest paper continues to mislead the public. Fraud and lies. Can’t call it climate science.

Patrick B

I don’t know about smelling predators, but I smell someone using our tax dollars to get to do a bunch of diving on the GBR.

Big Mac & Chips

I smell bullshit

DaveR

I worked in the Milne Bay area in the 1980s, and there are numerous CO2 seeps. In one area blasting to create a harbour in WWII resulted in big cracks in the reef, with bubbling up CO2, methane and light oil. Much of the region is an oilfield, with many onshore and offshore seeps. I wonder how this impacts the “research”?

There is a beauty to this study like there is to a well made Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson machine; it must be challenging to design an “experiment” that appear to be objective when looked at trivialy and leads to a pre-determined conclusion.

Patrick

I saw a documentary about this a few months ago. The overall claim was that coral and fish life were badly affected by the CO2 bubbling up from the sea floor. Corals and fish unaffected in other parts of the bay where CO2 was not bubbling up from the sea floor. To me, these “scientists” had already drawn their conclusions before they even started.

Tom J

Clearly, these researchers have not heard of the Pink Skunk Clownfish. These fish inhabit tropical reef waters including Australian waters. Did these researchers ever consider that a foul odor from the Pink Skunk Clown may have skunked any predators in the area. No, I think they did not.
Ok, I’m open to the small possibility that the Pink Skunk Clown may be called a Pink Skunk Clown, not because it has the same foul odor glands that a skunk has, but maybe because it just might look a little bit like what a skunk would look like if it was a fish. And, of course, if the skunk happened to be pink.
Ok, I realize I’ve just utterly destroyed my own theory. But, perhaps there is a lesson in this. Just because something may be described in some manner doesn’t mean it actually functions in that manner. For instance, I don’t really think the Jaguar sitting in my neighbor’s driveway is going to take to eating Gazelle’s anytime soon. Perhaps our intrepid researchers could learn from that and consider that the description of CO2 as a cloven hoofed, pointy tailed, burning red, cat eyed, horned destroyer may not actually be quite true. Maybe, before they began their research, they might have wished to research who described CO2 as that destroyer in the first place prior to assuming CO2 matched that fanciful description. Just like I should’ve figured out that Skunk Fish is a name, not a description of function; in the same way that in almost all cases CO2 is just a name for a research grant, and also not a description of function.
Oh, I do have one question though. Can these scientists describe the function of the lateral line on fish?

rogerthesurf

Unusual use of the plural of the word “fish” in the paper. “Fishes” sound more like the King James version of the bible to me.
English is my native language and I would say one fish, two fishes, three fish.
Maybe in the paper “fishes” has a specific meaning, or they had only two fish(es) to experiment with or they are simply not english graduates.
Of course American english has slightly different rules (maybe).
Cheers
Roger
http://www.rogerfromnewzealand.wordpress.com

Lew Skannen

“It is such a spectacular failure of the scientific method I don’t know how this got past peer review.”
I think it did so because they included the magic words ‘climate change’.

kimbokrossroads says: “If you are going to debunk this study, try to write credibly. It’s hard for me to agree that this study is sloppy when you, the source, are writing like mud. You are also spelling names wrong making you even less legit. F+ for wasted time.”
I recognize by your argument ad hominem that you are a warmist troll.

I struggle with the idea of Ocean Acidification due to a 1/3 -ish increase in atmospheric CO2. Without doing the chemistry, it seems to me that a logarithmic function like pH coupled with the self-buffering chemistry of the oceans would result in a change that is so small as to be nearly undetectable, and certainly nothing like “acidifying” the oceans.

rogerthesurf says:
April 14, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Unusual use of the plural of the word “fish” in the paper. “Fishes” sound more like the King James version of the bible to me.
English is my native language and I would say one fish, two fishes, three fish.

“One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” –Theodor Geisel

DesertYote

Healthy happy young fish are adventurous. Sick and environmental stressed fish stay hidden. I don’t think this study proves what these propagandist are trying to say it proves. BTW, Damsel fish do not hide when predators are about, only when they sense they are being targeted. I don’t know it that is what was used in the study, but they are used in all sorts of studies for the very reason I stated. They are easy to work with, well other then being obnoxiously aggressive at times.

DesertYote

rogerthesurf says:
April 14, 2014 at 6:28 pm
Fishes implies more then one species is present, and is the correct form to use in that situation.

Tim

It’s a happy coincidence that The Australian Institute of Marine Science chooses tropical, sun-drenched locations.
Maybe next time they might examine the Antarctic Icefish, where temperatures get down to about 1.8 degrees Celsius in the winter. Any volunteers for that trip?

lee

‘ Surface maps (left) and combined Pacific/Atlantic zonal mean sections (right) are given for scenario IS92a as averages over three time periods: 2011 to 2030 (top), 2045 to 2065 (middle) and 2080 to 2099 (bottom). Atmospheric CO2 concentrations for these three periods average 440, 570 and 730 ppm, respectively. ‘
http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch10s10-4-2.html
So the atmospheric CO2 would need to be at or above 730ppm for this to occur- if the above projection is to occur.

U.S. Navy Fielding Weather-Predicting Sea Drones
The drone subs measure about 5-foot-long, can descend to depths of 4,000 feet and stay submerged for several months at a time, communicating data every few seconds or so, Jacobs says. The Navy plans to increase its inventory of the gliders from 65 to 150 by next year.
Atmospheric meteorologists predict weather about seven to 10 days out. Ocean meteorologists can give fairly accurate, educated guesses about 30 days out –
http://www.afcea.org/content/?q=node/12631#sthash.YzI9wHSz.dpuf