The quality of shellfish: how climate change could change oysters

The quality of shellfish: how climate change could change oysters
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A new study from the University of Plymouth suggests that the nutritional qualities of shellfish including oysters could be significantly reduced by climate change, caused by future ocean acidification and warming.

The research, published in Marine Environmental Research, demonstrates how climate change, in particular ocean acidification and warming, could reduce the nutritional quality of oysters and other shellfish.

The research focussed on the Pacific oyster (Magallana gigas) and the native flat oyster (Ostrea edulis). The results show that increasing temperatures and CO2 levels could significantly reduce the Pacific oyster’s levels of proteins, lipids and carbohydrates.

Dr Anaëlle Lemasson, a former PhD student at the University of Plymouth, said: “Identifying changes in nutritional quality, as well as species most at risk, is crucial if societies are to secure food production. Our previous research had suggested there could be negative effects in the conditions predicted to occur in 2050 and 2100. However the fact that Pacific oysters, which currently accounts for around 90% of UK oyster production, can be affected could be a cause for concern.”

As well as changes in nutrient levels, researchers also observed important changes to essential mineral composition. This could lead to future concerns regarding the consumption safety of Pacific oysters because of the enhanced accumulation of copper in them.

Dr Antony Knights, Associate Professor in Marine Ecology, added: “Climate change and the growing global population are placing arguably unsustainable demands on sources of animal protein. This comes at a time when increased obesity in several regions of the world is leading to greater public awareness of the need for healthy and balanced diets. Oysters have the potential to be a sustainable, low-cost alternative source of protein for humans. Our native flat oyster, in particular, appears to be more resilient to future climate change scenarios than introduced Pacific oysters making them a great aquaculture choice and supports the growing investment in this product in the UK.”

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