Rising CO2 in lakes could keep water fleas from raising their spiky defenses

SPIKES OUT Tiny lake dwellers known as water fleas (Daphnia pulex shown) raise spiky defenses when sensing predators nearby. But high levels of carbon dioxide in lake waters may dull their senses, leaving the critters open to attack.

Rising carbon dioxide levels could leave some tiny lake dwellers defenseless. Like the oceans, some lakes are experiencing increasing levels of the greenhouse gas, a new study shows. And too much CO2 in the water may leave water fleas, an important part of many lake food webs, too sleepy to fend off predators.

Detailed observations of lake chemistry over long periods of time are rare. But researchers found data from 1981 to 2015 on four reservoirs in Germany, allowing the scientists to calculate how much CO2 levels had risen and how much pH levels, measuring acidity in the water, had dropped, the scientists report online January 11 in Current Biology.

Rising CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere has also increased levels of the gas dissolved in the oceans, making them more acidic (SN: 5/27/17, p. 11). Studies show that ocean acidification alters the behaviors of marine species (SN Online: 2/2/17). It’s less clear how rising atmospheric CO2 levels are affecting freshwater bodies, or how their denizens are coping with change, says aquatic ecologist Linda Weiss of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

L.C. Weiss et al/Current Biology 2018

Comparing the data from the four reservoirs showed that, in those 35 years, the average CO2 level across all lakes rose by about 560 microatmospheres, a unit of pressure. Two of the…

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