Responses of juvenile Atlantic silverside, striped killifish, mummichog, and striped bass to acute hypoxia and acidification: Aquatic surface respiration and survival

Diel fluctuations in dissolved oxygen (DO) and pH create hypoxic conditions that alter the quality of shallow estuarine nursery habitats for juvenile fishes. Understanding how different species in these environments mitigate stress associated with intermittent hypoxia through compensatory behaviors, such as aquatic surface respiration (ASR), is important in determining the effect of these stressors on estuarine ecosystems. Behavioral responses of Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia), striped killifish (Fundulus majalis), mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), and juvenile striped bass (Morone saxatilis) were independently observed during exposure to two levels of diel-cycling DO (3–9 mg O2 l− 1 and 1–11 mg O2 l− 1) each tested with both the corresponding pH cycle (7.2–7.8 and 6.8–8.1, respectively) and static pH (7.5) under controlled laboratory conditions. In treatments in which DO declined to ~ 3 mg O2 l− 1, none of the species examined exhibited ASR behavior either with or without the associated pH decline. However, ASR was observed during both 4-hour and extended 16-hour exposure where DO declined to ~ 1.0–1.6 mg O2 l− 1 in M. menidia and both Fundulus species. M. saxatilis did not exhibit ASR and no mortalities occurred during 4-hour low DO/pH treatments or during 16 hour exposure to 1.5 mg O2 l− 1. During extended 16-hour treatments, DO thresholds for ASR were not found to be different between F. majalis and F. heteroclitus, but both differed significantly from M. menidia. Across both 4-hour and 16-hour treatments, the onset of ASR was observed in M. menidia at or near lethal levels (1.31–1.62 mg O2 l− 1). No evidence of a pH (pCO2) effect on ASR or survival was found in any species in response to naturally co-varying DO and pH swings, despite pH as low as 6.8 and high pCO2 levels of >~12,000 μatm. These results suggest that utilization of ASR is a species-specific response influenced by the magnitude and duration of hypoxic exposure. ASR may serve as a last-ditch strategy by M. menidia to prolong survival for minutes to hours, but function as a means for F. heteroclitus to mitigate or reduce negative effects of hypoxia on a scale of days to weeks, with F. majalis exhibiting an intermediate response.

Dixon R. L., Grecay P. A. & Targett T. E., 2017. Responses of juvenile Atlantic silverside, striped killifish, mummichog, and striped bass to acute hypoxia and acidification: Aquatic surface respiration and survival. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 493:20–30. Article (subscription required).

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