• Kristina Barclay

New OA CoP Coordinator: Kristina Barclay

Dr. Kristina Barclay joins the OA CoP as our new Coordinator and a Postdoctoral Associate with OA CoP Co-lead, Dr. Brent Else in the Geography Department at the University of Calgary.

Kristina collecting snails for OA experiments in California

What is your background?

I am an invertebrate palaeontologist, but I spend just as much time working on living animals as fossil ones! I am interested in the growing field of conservation palaeobiology (using palaeontological techniques and data to aid in current conservation efforts), so my research focuses on the intersection between modern ecology and palaeontology to make connections between the past and present. Most of my Ph.D. research examined how predation changes through time, and how human activity and climate change (OA) have, and might continue, to affect predator-prey relationships. I have a B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. from the University of Alberta where I’ve had the opportunity to study lots of different fossil animals, including dinosaurs and ancient Devonian brachiopods (animals with two shells, similar to clams), as well as modern creatures like snails and crabs. I also have a lot of experience in science outreach, communication, and public education, having worked at museums and science centres in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and volunteering for science education and outreach organizations like Time Scavengers (timescavengers.org) where I write geoscience blogs and serve on grant committees.

What is your interest or background in OA?

I am interested in how OA affects predator-prey relationships between shelly animals like snails and their shell-crushing crab predators. OA is expected to have negative consequences on animals with hard shells, as OA decreases the availability of shell-building materials like aragonite and calcite, making it harder for those animals to build and maintain their shells. Because animals like snails depend on their shells to protect them from shell-crushing predators, OA might make them more vulnerable to predation, which could cause shifts in the balance of ecosystems. The interesting thing about the fossil record is that OA has also occurred at several points in the past. If we understand how organisms are affected by OA, we can look for evidence of those effects in the fossil record, and then see how things play out ecologically over time, which might allow us to predict how OA will impact ecosystems in the not-so-distant future.

Can you tell us about your past or current contributions to OA research?

A lot of my OA research focuses on what happens to snail shells when they are exposed to low seawater pH over long periods of time, and what this means in terms of their ability to resist shell-crushing predation. I conducted a six-month long experiment growing two different snails under different pH conditions at Bodega Marine Laboratory (UC Davis). These two snails, the black turban snail (Tegula funebralis) and the purple dogwhelk (Nucella ostrina), are abundant members of intertidal ecosystems along the west coast of North America, and an important food sources for predators like crabs, but they construct their shells differently (the composition and microstructural crystal arrangement is different). I wanted to know how the shells of both species would be affected by OA, and if the differences in their shell properties would be important in terms of their vulnerability to shell-crushing predators like crabs under future OA.

My main study species - the red rock crab, Cancer productus, and the black turban snail, Tegula funebralis, with large scar from a crab attack

I found that the two species showed different responses to OA: Tegula funebralis was affected much more severely by OA, with shell growth and strength reduced by over 83% and 50%, respectively, whereas the growth of Nucella ostrina was unaffected, and shell strength was only reduced by 10% (Barclay et al. 2019). By using a microCT scanner and scanning electron microscope (SEM), I found that the outer-most part of the shells had started to dissolve, but that shell dissolution was more extensive in Tegula, which have shell crystals with more surface area for dissolution to occur than Nucella (Barclay et al. 2020). These results suggest that: (1) animals with hard shells like snails will likely become more vulnerable to shell-crushing predators with continued OA in the future, which will disrupt the balance of ecosystems, and (2) the microstructural arrangement of shell materials influences the extent of shell dissolution. Because molluscs, including aquaculturally important species like oysters, mussels, and scallops, have predictable shell types, my hope is that this research can be used to help determine which molluscs will be most vulnerable to OA.

Why did you join the OA CoP steering committee?

I applied for the Coordinator position not only because of my background and interest in OA, but because of my strong belief in science advocacy and the application of scientific knowledge for the betterment of society. The OA CoP has identified important research themes and brought together OA researchers and end-users across the country, and the sky is the limit for the future! I am eager to bring my experience and background in both OA research and science outreach and communication to this position to provide people across Canada with OA research, tools, resources, and a sense of community. By helping to continue to build the OA community in Canada, I hope that I can be a part of the solution to tackle our growing climate crisis.

What do you see as the most pressing OA issue for Canadians?

With the longest coastline in the world, and a very vulnerable arctic region, I think finding strategies to help coastal communities tackle and mitigate the effects of OA will be the biggest, but most important challenge. My research background in coastal biology means I think a lot about concerns over food security, and I think ensuring the sustainability of aquaculture and wild fisheries, and the stability of coastal ecosystems will be an important issue to address in the coming years and decades.

What excites you most about the current or future of OA research in Canada?

One thing I am learning in this role is that there are so many amazing collaborations happening across the country from universities to government to local groups. I think the OA CoP is uniquely positioned to help facilitate networks and conversations across these groups, while also providing services and identifying key needs of the OA community. I believe science is becoming an increasingly collaborative and community-based effort, and I am excited to see where the CoP can help take OA projects in Canada!

What is the one take-home about OA that you wish all Canadians knew?

I think it is important to recognize that even if global carbon dioxide emissions dropped to zero tomorrow, the ocean will continue to take up CO2 because the ocean is still a CO2 sink. This means that OA is going to be a growing challenge in the future no matter what because it will take a long time for the ocean and atmosphere to equilibrate. We as the OA CoP will have to continue to come together to provide innovative solutions to help tackle OA in the future, but I think we’re up for the challenge!

Anything else you’d like to say?

As a geoscientist, I also have to point out that while, yes, there have been past periods with increases in greenhouse gases that have caused OA and warming, the rate of change we are seeing today is completely unprecedented. And the rate of change is really the issue because things are happening much faster today than they would under natural settings, or even compared to settings that have caused mass extinctions in the past, meaning that it is hard for organisms to adapt and respond quickly enough. This is why I think conservation palaeobiology is going to be really helpful – we can use patterns from the past to predict future patterns that will hopefully save conservationists time and allow them to allocate resources and research efforts more efficiently and effectively. It's an important and exciting time to be a conservation palaeobiologist!

Studying crab predation traces on both fossil and modern snails can be used to examine how humans may have affected crab populations through time (Barclay and Leighton, in review).

To learn more about Kristina, her research, and science communication/writing, please follow her website, her blog posts for Time Scavengers, and updates via Twitter.


Barclay, K., B. Gaylord, B. Jellison, P. Shukla, E. Sanford, and L. Leighton. 2019: Variation in the effects of ocean acidification on shell growth and strength in two intertidal gastropods. Marine Ecology Progress Series 626:109–121. doi.org/10.3354/meps13056

Barclay, K. M., M. K. Gingras, S. T. Packer, and L. R. Leighton. 2020: The role of gastropod shell composition and microstructure in resisting dissolution caused by ocean acidification. Marine Environmental Research 162:105105. doi.org/10.1016/j.marenvres.2020.105105

Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response (MEOPAR) Network

Ocean Acidification Community of Practice 

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