The intertidal isopod (Cirolana harfordi) might resemble woodlouse or pill bugs that appear beneath rocks in your garden, but they are surely more threatening than their terrestrial cousins. C. harfordi aka ‘sea slaters’ are successful scavengers that clean the seafloor by consuming detritus, but when amassed in large groups they are known to attack large fish, entire fisheries and even humans.

Little is known about their development, anatomy and physiology, and as we approach warmer and more acidic ocean conditions, it’s important to understand how the changing climate will affect populations.

Female pregnant isopod with live young – Dr. Murray Thomson
Isopods out of water and beginning to moult  – Dr. Murray Thomson

Dr. Murray Thomson from The University of Sydney aims to do just that, and is currently researching the effects of future ocean warming and acidification on the reproduction and physiology of C. harfordi in the SIMS Ian Potter Research Aquarium.

Murray’s research will help to inform plans to keep populations at healthy levels for the benefit of Australia’s ecology and economy, and we are excited to see what he uncovers!

C. harfordi or sea slaters give live birth and each female produces between 25 – 40 young. Previous studies at SIMS have shown that rises in temperature can speed up the reproductive cycle in C. harfordi, more than doubling the number of offspring the animal produces. Our oceans are becoming more acidic as well as warming, so Murray is now looking at how these future ocean conditions affect the reproduction of this live bearing crustacean.⁠

Experimental colonies of C. harfordi were set up in August and already many of the females are starting to carry young, the images show a female carrying embryos inside her body. The next stage in development is the appearance of eyes on the embryos somewhere in the next 2 – 4 weeks. ⁠

So, how do you think the warmer acidic conditions will affect their development?

Pregnant C. harfordi, carrying early stage embryos