Limits and patterns of acid-base regulation during elevated environmental CO2 in fish

Highlights

• High aquatic CO2 may pose challenges to extra- and intra-cellular pH regulation in fish

• In this review we discuss the putative limits to extracellular pH regulation in fish and how some species use a strategy referred to as ‘preferential intracellular pH regulation’ to maintain pH homeostasis during exposure to CO2 tensions beyond their capacity for extracellular pH regulation.

Abstract

Aquatic CO2 tensions may exceed 30–60 Torr (ca. 30,000–79,000 μatm, respectively; hypercarbia) in some environments inducing severe acid-base challenges in fish. Typically, during exposure to hypercarbia blood pH (pHe) is initially reduced and then compensated in association with an increase in plasma HCO3– in exchange for Cl−. Typically, intracellular pH (pHi) is reduced and recovery is to some degree coupled to pHe recovery (coupled pH regulation). However, during acute hypercarbia, pHe recovery has been proposed to be limited by an “apparent upper bicarbonate threshold”, restricting complete pHe recovery to below 15 Torr PCO2. At PCO2 values beyond that which fish can compensate pHe, some fish are able to fully protect pHi despite large sustained reductions in pHe (preferential pHi regulation) and can tolerate PCO2 > 45 Torr. This review discusses pHe and pHi regulation during exposure to hypercarbia starting with modeling the capacity and theoretical limit to pHe compensation in 19 studies. Next, we discuss how fish compensate severe acute hypercarbia exposures beyond the putative limit of pHe compensation using preferential pHi regulation which has recently been observed to be common among fish subjected to severe hypercarbia. Finally, we consider the evolution of pH regulatory strategies in vertebrates, including how the presence of preferential pHi regulation in embryonic reptiles may indicate that it is an embryonic trait that is either lost or retained in adult vertebrates and may have served as an exaptation for evolutionary transitions during vertebrate evolution.

Shartau R. B., Damsgaard C. & Brauner C. J., in press. Limits and patterns of acid-base regulation during elevated environmental CO2 in fish. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology. Article (subscription required).

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