Atlantic Silverside Evolve to Cope with Climate Change and an Acidic Ocean

First Posted: Mar 07, 2015 09:36 AM EST

While some species are suffering from climate change, others have the potential to adapt. Scientists have taken a closer look at the Atlantic silverside, a small but important fish, and have studied its ability to evolve to adapt to ocean acidification.

As increased carbon dioxide levels occur in our atmosphere, the gas also mixes into the oceans. This causes ocean water to acidify slightly, which can cause issues for species that form calcium carbonate shells, like corals.

In this case, the scientists decided to measure the "evolutionary potential" of the Atlantic silverside, which is an important food source for aquatic birds and commercially important fish species. The researchers captured wild silverside from a beach in Long Island Sound and then raised several groups of their offspring in a lab. Some groups were raised under normal ocean conditions while others were raised in a more acidic environment.

The researchers tracked how long each of the fish lived and then analyzed their DNA to tell which ones were related to one another. They found that related fish had similar lifespans; this, in turn, suggested that the fish have the potential to evolve to cope with an acidic environment.

"This is an experiment that can be performed in one generation," said Hannes Baumann, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings reveal that these fish can adapt. The scientists are hopeful that the results will also prove useful in predicting how oysters, sea urchins and other marine species will cope with the changing ocean environment.

The findings are published in the journal Evolutionary Applications.

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