Cryptic genetic variation underpins rapid adaptation to ocean acidification

Global climate change has intensified the need to assess the capacity for natural populations to adapt to abrupt shifts in the environment. Reductions in seawater pH constitute a conspicuous stressor associated with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide that is affecting ecosystems throughout the world’s oceans. Here, we quantify the phenotypic and genetic modifications associated with rapid adaptation to reduced seawater pH in the marine mussel, Mytilus galloprovincialis. We reared a genetically diverse larval population in ambient and extreme low pH conditions (pHT 8.1 and 7.4) and tracked changes in the larval size and allele frequency distributions through settlement. Additionally, we separated larvae by size to link a fitness-related trait to its underlying genetic background in each treatment. Both phenotypic and genetic data show that M. galloprovincialis can evolve in response to a decrease in seawater pH. This process is polygenic and characterized by genotype-environment interactions, suggesting the role of cryptic genetic variation in adaptation to future climate change. Holistically, this work provides insight into the processes underpinning rapid evolution, and demonstrates the importance of maintaining standing variation within natural populations to bolster species’ adaptive capacity as global change progresses.

Bitter M. C., Kapsenberg L., Gattuso J.-P. & Pfister C. A., in press. Cryptic genetic variation underpins rapid adaptation to ocean acidification. bioRxiv. Article.

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Ocean acidification in the IPCC AR5 WG II

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