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Ocean acidification, caused by the uptake of atmospheric CO2, is a threat to marine biodiversity, potentially rivalling the threat imposed by rising temperatures in some marine ecosystems. Although a growing body of literature documents negative effects of acidification on marine organisms, the majority of this work has focused on the effects of future conditions on modern populations, ignoring the potential effects of adaptation and physiological acclimatization. We review current literature on the potential for adaptation to elevated pCO2 in marine organisms. Although this body of work is currently quite small, we argue that data on the physiological effects of acidification, natural variation in pH and lessons learned from previous work on thermal adaptation can all inform predictions and priorities for future research. Spatially varying selection is one of the most important forces maintaining intraspecific genetic variation. Unlike temperature, pH lacks a strong and persistent global gradient, and so selection may maintain less adaptive variation for pH than for temperature. On the other hand, we are only beginning to amass long-term data sets for pH variation in natural habitats, and thus, pH gradients may be more common than previously observed. Two of the most important effects of elevated pCO2 are reduced calcification and changes in metabolism. We discuss the ways that a detailed understanding of the physiological mechanisms underlying these effects is key to predicting the capacity for acclimatization and adaptation. Important priorities for future research will be to assess local adaptation to pH conditions and to measure the capacity for adaptation to future acidified conditions in natural populations. Tools for this work include traditional quantitative genetics, transcriptomics and the adaptation of ion-sensitive field-effect transistor (ISFET) technology for use in continuous seawater pH monitoring in the field. © 2012 British Ecological Society.

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Functional Ecology

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