Determining the exact effects of ocean acidification on shellfish has proven difficult, however. Though plummeting pH levels have been blamed for shellfish die-offs, the correlations have appeared inconsistent.

New research suggests the response of shellfish to ocean acidification is dependent on a number of other environmental stressors.

In a study of California mussels, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz determined that food availability — or scarcity — had a significant effect on mussels’ vulnerability to ocean acidification. Food availability, the scientists noted, is highly dependent on geography and affected by a complex amalgam of environmental and ecological factors.

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