How good are we at assessing the impact of ocean acidification in coastal systems? Limitations, omissions and strengths of commonly used experimental approaches with special emphasis on the neglected role of fluctuations Abstract. Much of our past research on ocean acidification has focussed on direct responses to pCO2 increase at the (sub-) organism level, but does not produce findings that can be projected into the natural context. On the basis of a review of 350 recent articles mainly on ocean acidification effects, we highlight major limitations of commonly used experimental approaches. Thus, the most common type of investigation, simplified and tightly controlled laboratory experiments, has yielded a wealth of findings on short-term physiological responses to acidification, but any extrapolation to the natural ecosystem level is still problematic. For this purpose, an upscaling is required regarding the number of stressors, of ontogenetic stages, of species, of populations, of generations as well as the incorporation of fluctuating intensities of stress. Because the last aspect seems to be the least recognised, we treat in more detail the natural fluctuations of the carbonate system at different temporal and spatial scales. We report on the very rare investigations that have assessed the biological relevance of natural pH or pCO2 fluctuations. We conclude by pleading the case for more natural research approaches that integrate several organisational levels on the response side, several drivers, biological interactions and environmental fluctuations at various scales.