Stanford Seeks Sea Urchin's Secret to Surviving Ocean Acidification

Posted: April 9, 2013  |  By: Rob Jordan [Stanford News]

Stanford scientists have discovered that some purple sea urchins living along the coast of California and Oregon have the surprising ability to rapidly evolve in acidic ocean water – a capacity that may come in handy as climate change increases ocean acidity. This capacity depends on high levels of genetic variation that allow urchins’ healthy growth in water with high carbon dioxide levels.

The study, co-authored by Stephen Palumbi, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and director of Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, reveals previously unknown adaptive variations that could help some marine species survive in future acidified seas.

“It’s like bet hedging,” Palumbi said. “Betting on multiple teams in the NCAA playoffs gives you a better chance of winning. A parent with genetic variation for survival in different conditions makes offspring that can thrive in different environments. In an uncertain world, it’s a way to have a stake in the Final Four.”

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