Evolutionary change during experimental ocean acidification

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) conditions are driving unprecedented changes in seawater chemistry, resulting in reduced pH and carbonate ion concentrations in the Earth’s oceans. This ocean acidification has negative but variable impacts on individual performance in many marine species. However, little is known about the adaptive capacity of species to respond to an acidified ocean, and, as a result, predictions regarding future ecosystem responses remain incomplete. Here we demonstrate that ocean acidification generates striking patterns of genome-wide selection in purple sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) cultured under different CO2 levels. We examined genetic change at 19,493 loci in larvae from seven adult populations cultured under realistic future CO2 levels. Although larval development and morphology showed little response to elevated CO2, we found substantial allelic change in 40 functional classes of proteins involving hundreds of loci. Pronounced genetic changes, including excess amino acid replacements, were detected in all populations and occurred in genes for biomineralization, lipid metabolism, and ion homeostasis—gene classes that build skeletons and interact in pH regulation. Such genetic change represents a neglected and important impact of ocean acidification that may influence populations that show few outward signs of response to acidification. Our results demonstrate the capacity for rapid evolution in the face of ocean acidification and show that standing genetic variation could be a reservoir of resilience to climate change in this coastal upwelling ecosystem. However, effective response to strong natural selection demands large population sizes and may be limited in species impacted by other environmental stressors.

Pespeni M. H., Sanford E., Gaylord B., Hill T. M., Hosfelt J. D., Jaris H. K., LaVigne M., Lenz E. A., Russell A. D., Young M. K. & Palumbi S. R., in press. Evolutionary change during experimental ocean acidification. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Article.


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