An in situ assessment of local adaptation in a calcifying polychaete from a shallow CO2 vent system

Ocean acidification (OA) is likely to exert selective pressure on natural populations. Our ability to predict which marine species will adapt to OA, and what underlies this adaptive potential, are of high conservation and resource management priority. Using a naturally low pH vent site in the Mediterranean Sea (Castello Aragonese, Ischia) mirroring projected future OA conditions, we carried out a reciprocal transplant experiment to investigate the relative importance of phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation in two populations of the sessile, calcifying polychaete Simplaria sp. (Annelida, Serpulidae, Spirorbinae): one residing in low pH and the other from a nearby ambient (i.e. high) pH site. We measured a suite of fitness related traits (i.e. survival, reproductive output, maturation, population growth) and tube growth rates in laboratory-bred F2 generation individuals from both populations reciprocally transplanted back into both ambient and low pH in situ habitats. Both populations showed lower expression in all traits, but increased tube growth rates, when exposed to low pH compared to high pH conditions, regardless of their site of origin suggesting that local adaptation to low pH conditions has not occurred. We also found comparable levels of plasticity in the two populations investigated, suggesting no influence of long-term exposure to low pH on the ability of populations to adjust their phenotype. Despite high variation in trait values among sites and the relatively extreme conditions at sites close to the vents (pH < 7.36), response trends were consistent across traits. Hence, our data suggest that, for Simplaria and possibly other calcifiers, neither local adaptations nor sufficient phenotypic plasticity levels appear to suffice in order to compensate for the negative impacts of OA on long-term survival. Our work also underlines the utility of field experiments in natural environments subjected to high level of pCO2 for elucidating the potential for adaptation to future scenarios of OA.

Lucey N. M., Lombardi C., Florio M., DeMarchi L., Nannini M., Rundle S., Gambi M. C. & Calosi P., in press. An in situ assessment of local adaptation in a calcifying polychaete from a shallow CO2 vent system. Evolutionary Applications. Article (subscription required).

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