The effects of climate change on food stock quality is well documented, yet a new study suggests that climate change might not only affect survival rates of marine life, but also how it tastes too. The findings came after an international team of researchers sought to see how high water acidity affects the sensory quality of shrimp.

Northern shrimp hauled aboard a shrimp boat. Credit: Wikimedia

Northern shrimp hauled aboard a shrimp boat. Credit: Wikimedia

Carbon is stored not only in trees, but also in the world’s oceans and sea which act like huge carbon sinks. As more and more carbon is being absorbed, this causes the water to become more acidic, a process called ocean acidification. Marine animals  interact in complex food webs that may be disrupted by ocean acidification due to losses in key species that will have trouble creating calcium carbonate shells in acidified waters. Some species of calcifying plankton that are threatened by ocean acidification form the base of marine food chains and are important sources of prey to many larger organisms. With coral and plankton gone, most marine species will follow, thus acidification is a huge concern. But if you’re not that interested in the fate of marine life, maybe you’d be more considerate of how it tastes.

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The researchers put hundreds of northern shrimps (Pandalus borealis) into tanks that mimic a projected 2100 ocean acidification level of pH 7.5, while a control group was put in tanks of pH 8.0, the current average level in the waters. In addition, the water was heated to 11 degrees Centigrade, or roughly the extreme of the shrimps’ temperature tolerance, so that the animals would be more stressed and make acidification stand out more. After three weeks, the shrimps were put out of the tanks and served to 30 connoisseurs for a taste test.

Shrimp from less acidic waters were 3.4 times as likely to be judged the tastiest, while those from more acidic waters were 2.6 times as likely to be rated the worst tasting, according to the paper published in the Journal of Shellfish Research. Not to be neglected is that decreased pH increased mortality significantly, by 63%. Does this mean that the shrimp industry is doomed? It’s hard to tell, but what the study shows is that the effects of climate change extend well beyond food supply, but also quality. I’ve yet to find something similar, but it may be likely that the same might be said about other marine food stocks, like tuna.

Regarding terrestrial food, a University of California, Davis study found that  rising CO2 levels are inhibits plants’ ability to assimilate nitrates into nutrients, altering their quality for the worse. Thus, it’s expected that crops in the future will contain less nutrients than they do today.