Species-specific responses to ocean acidification should account for local adaptation and adaptive plasticity

Global stressors, such as ocean acidification, constitute a rapidly emerging and significant problem for marine organisms, ecosystem functioning and services. The coastal ecosystems of the Humboldt Current System (HCS) off Chile harbour a broad physical–chemical latitudinal and temporal gradient with considerable patchiness in local oceanographic conditions. This heterogeneity may, in turn, modulate the specific tolerances of organisms to climate stress in species with populations distributed along this environmental gradient. Negative response ratios are observed in species models (mussels, gastropods and planktonic copepods) exposed to changes in the partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) far from the average and extreme pCO2 levels experienced in their native habitats. This variability in response between populations reveals the potential role of local adaptation and/or adaptive phenotypic plasticity in increasing resilience of species to environmental change. The growing use of standard ocean acidification scenarios and treatment levels in experimental protocols brings with it a danger that inter-population differences are confounded by the varying environmental conditions naturally experienced by different populations. Here, we propose the use of a simple index taking into account the natural pCO2 variability, for a better interpretation of the potential consequences of ocean acidification on species inhabiting variable coastal ecosystems. Using scenarios that take into account the natural variability will allow  understanding of the limits to plasticity across organismal traits, populations and species.

Vargas C. A., Lagos N. A., Lardies M. A., Duarte C., Manríquez P. H., Aguilera V. M., Broitman B., Widdicombe S. & Dupont S., 2017. Species-specific responses to ocean acidification should account for local adaptation and adaptive plasticity. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1:0084. Article.

2 Responses to “Species-specific responses to ocean acidification should account for local adaptation and adaptive plasticity”

  1. 1 Jean-Pierre Gattuso 17 March 2017 at 12:36

    The paper by Vargas et al. (2017) is an important contribution to the field of ocean acidification research. I would like to correct a wrong information that I have heard several times and am now reading in this paper. I hope that the following will help stop propagating a recurring error.

    First, an incorrect reference is provided concerning the guidelines the paper refers to (reference 10). It should actually be:

    Barry J. P., Tyrrell T., Hansson L. & Gattuso J.-P., 2010. Atmospheric CO2 targets for ocean acidification perturbation experiments. In: Riebesell U., Fabry V. J., Hansson L. & Gattuso J.-P. (Eds.), Guide to best practices for ocean acidification research and data reporting, pp. 53-66. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

    Second, it is often mentioned, also in Vargas et al. (2017), that these guidelines recommend using the same future levels of seawater pCO2 all over the world to facilitate comparison between studies. This is incorrect. As the title of this article mentions, it addresses **atmospheric** CO2 targets. It argues that “Comparison of results among ocean acidification studies will be easier by using common atmospheric CO2 targets, even though ocean carbonate chemistry parameters may differ”.


    – The paper by Vargas et al. (2017) overlooks the fact that the guidelines do highlight the temporal and spatial variability of the carbonate system: “Unlike atmospheric p(CO2), which is relatively homogeneous over the Earth, aqueous p(CO2) and other ocean carbonate system parameters can vary greatly over space and time…”.

    – The guidelines note that “Key atmospheric p(CO2) values can be defined and used as guidelines, but their corresponding values for ocean carbonate system parameters are the primary measurements for ocean acidification experiments, and should also be reported.”

    – Then the authors of the guidelines ask the question “How can investigators convert key atmospheric p(CO2) values to the in situ p(CO2), pH, Ωa, Ωc, or other carbonate system parameters of interest for specific ocean acidification experiments?”. Ways to do that are proposed, specifically addressing coastal zones, inland seas, oxygen minimum zones, and deep-sea environments.

    The comments above do not diminish the merit of the authors. The use of “∆pCO2 exposure” as a descriptor is clever and will help analyze the large amount of data on the biological response to ocean acidification collected in recent years.

    Nevertheless, it would be nice if the mistakes above as well as the incorrect description of the literature could be corrected in print.

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