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Ocean acidification may make some species glow brighter

A more acidic ocean could give some species a glow-up.

As the pH of the ocean decreases as a result of climate change, some bioluminescent organisms might get brighter, while others see their lights dim, scientists report January 2 at the virtual annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Bioluminescence is de rigueur in parts of the ocean. The ability to light the dark has evolved more than 90 times in different species. As a result, the chemical structures that create bioluminescence vary wildly — from single chains of atoms to massive ringed complexes.

With such variability, changes in pH could have unpredictable effects on creatures’ ability to glow. If fossil fuel emissions continue as they are, average ocean pH is expected to drop from 8.1 to 7.7 by 2100. To find out how bioluminescence might be affected by that decrease, sensory biologist Tom Iwanicki and colleagues at the University of Hawaii at Manoa gathered 49 studies on bioluminescence across nine different phyla. The team then analyzed data from those studies to see how the brightness of the creatures’ bioluminescent compounds varied at pH levels from 8.1 to 7.7.

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