Dr Laura Parker

The University of Sydney
Research Field: Marine Science

Ocean acidification (OA) is one of the biggest challenges for marine biodiversity in our time. This ongoing process is caused by oceans absorbing increasingly large amounts of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and this is decreasing ocean pH at an unprecedented rate. Studies globally show that oysters are extremely vulnerable to OA and will need to undergo acclimation or adaptation to survive. In collaboration with NSW Department of Primary Industries, Dr Parker discovered that oysters can acclimate to OA via transgenerational plasticity. Exposure of parents to OA during reproductive conditioning facilitates the transfer of positive carryover effects to their offspring, which drastically improve their performance in the acidified conditions. These carryover effects persist into adulthood and the next generation and are caused by a heritable increase in standard metabolic rate.

The Australian Research Council has supported this research through the award of one Discovery and two Discovery Indigenous projects, leading to 35 publications (>1500 citations), including in Global Change Biology. In recognition of the success of Dr Parker’s work, she was awarded best presentation at two international conferences, and now, her research is a key part of the Sydney rock oyster breeding program to help ‘climate-proof’ the largest aquaculture industry in NSW, worth $40 million annually.