Ocean acidification impacts on sperm mitochondrial membrane potential bring sperm swimming behaviour near its tipping point

Peter Schlegel, Monique T. Binet*, Jonathan N. Havenhand, Christopher J. Doyle, Jane E. Williamson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

23 Citations (Scopus)


Broadcast spawning marine invertebrates are susceptible to environmental stressors such as climate change, as their reproduction depends on the successful meeting and fertilization of gametes in the water column. Under near-future scenarios of ocean acidification, the swimming behaviour of marine invertebrate sperm is altered. We tested whether this was due to changes in sperm mitochondrial activity by investigating the effects of ocean acidification on sperm metabolism and swimming behaviour in the sea urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii. We used a fluorescent molecular probe (JC-1) and flow cytometry tovisualize mitochondrial activity (measured as change in mitochondrial membrane potential, MMP). Sperm MMP was significantly reduced in ΔpH -0.3 (35% reduction) and ΔpH -0.5 (48%reduction) treatments, whereasspermswimming behaviour was less sensitivewith only slight changes (upto11% decrease) observed overall. There was significant inter-individual variability in responses of sperm swimming behaviour and MMP to acidified seawater. We suggest it is likely that sperm exposed to these changes in pH are close to their tipping point in terms of physiological tolerance to acidity. Importantly, substantial inter-individual variation in responses of sperm swimming to ocean acidification may increase the scope for selection of resilient phenotypes, which, if heritable, could provide a basis for adaptation to future ocean acidification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1084-1090
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015


  • CO2
  • Reproduction
  • Fertilization kinetics
  • Resilience
  • Sperm metabolism

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    The impact if ocean acidification on the fertilization, larval development and recruitment of key Australian marine organisations

    Williamson, J., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Havenhand, J., Ward, S., Diaz-Pulido, G., Kline, D. & Hernaman, V.


    Project: Research

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