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 CO 2 (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.