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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

The effects of ocean acidification on fishes - history and future outlook

Sundin, Josefin


The effects of increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) on the Earth's temperature have been known since the end of the 19th century. It was long believed that the oceans' buffering capacity would counteract any effects of dissolved CO2 in marine environments, but during recent decades, many studies have reported detrimental effects of ocean acidification on aquatic organisms. The most prominent effects can be found within the field of behavioural ecology, e.g., complete reversal of predator avoidance behaviour in CO2-exposed coral reef fish. Some of the studies have been very influential, receiving hundreds of citations over recent years. The results have also been conveyed to policymakers and publicized in prominent media outlets for the general public. Those extreme effects of ocean acidification on fish behaviour have, however, spurred controversy, given that more than a century of research suggests that there are few or no negative effects of elevated CO2 on fish physiology. This is due to sophisticated acid-base regulatory mechanisms that should enable their resilience to near-future increases in CO2. In addition, an extreme "decline effect" has recently been shown in the literature regarding ocean acidification and fish behaviour, and independent research groups have been unable to replicate some of the most profound effects. Here, the author presents a brief historical overview on the effects of elevated CO2 and ocean acidification on fishes. This historical recap is warranted because earlier work, prior to a recent (c. 10 year) explosion in interest, is often overlooked in today's ocean acidification studies, despite its value to the field. Based on the historical data and the current knowledge status, the author suggests future strategies with the aim to improve research rigour and clarify the understanding of the effects of ocean acidification on fishes.


carbon dioxide; climate change; observation bias; replication; warming

Published in

Journal of Fish Biology
2023, Volume: 103, number: 4, pages: 765-772
Publisher: WILEY

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG14 Life below water
    SDG13 Climate action

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Climate Research
    Fish and Aquacultural Science

    Publication identifier


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