Jumping snails could lose ability to jump as CO2 rises

Jumping conch snails could become more vulnerable to predators as rising CO2 damages their nervous systems

A conch snail hops along the sea bed (Source: ARC Centre of Excellence)

A conch snail hops along the sea bed (Source: ARC Centre of Excellence)

By Sophie Yeo

Conch snails rarely feature as a priority in climate change discussions, but as concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere increase, this marine species could lose a crucial skill: its ability to jump.

Scientists have found that these snails take longer to jump, or even fail to jump altogether, when exposed to the levels of carbon dioxide projected for the end of this century.

This leaves the snails vulnerable to their nemesis, the slow-moving marbled cone shell, which sends out poisonous darts to kill its prey.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy, outlines how rising carbon dioxide and ocean acidification disrupts the snail’s nervous system, which delays the vital decision-making process as it makes its escape. Scientists have previously observed a similar response in fish.

This could have a knock on effect down the food chain, explain the scientists involved in the study.

Co-author Professor Goran Nilsson, from the University of Oslo, explains: “This neurotransmitter receptor is common in many animals and evolved quite early in the animal kingdom.

“So what this study suggests is that human carbon dioxide emissions directly alter the behaviour of many marine animals, including much of the seafood that is part of the human diet.”

While most studies focus on how more acidic oceans will damage the shells of marine creatures, this highlights that there will also be behavioural impacts, with effects that stretch beyond the plight of the conch snail.

Co-author Dr Sue-Ann Watson said: “Altered behaviours between predators and prey have the potential to disrupt ocean food webs.”

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