Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 79–93 | Cite as

A review of some physiological and toxicological responses of freshwater fish to acid stress

  • Paul O. Fromm


Data relating to the specific effect of low pH on growth of freshwater fishes are ambiguous. Reproductive failure resulting from acid stress appears to be related to an upset in calcium metabolism and to faulty deposition of protein in developing oocytes. It appears that the ’no effect‘ level of pH depression for successful reproduction is around 6.5. Data on behaviorial responses of freshwater fish to acid stress and CO2 are described. Most fish appear to be indifferent to pH within the range of approximately 10.5 to 5.5 and between 7.4 and 4.5 CO2 appears to be the main directive factor. In cases of severe acid stress alteration of gill membranes and/or coagulation of gill mucus occurs and death due to hypoxia may result from a lengthening of the water-blood diffusion distance. Several reports agree that acid stress causes an upset of electrolyte homeostasis in fish but effects of low pH on osmotic permeability are largely lacking. Most hatcheryreared salmonids can tolerate pH 5.0 indefinitely but below this level the homeostatic electrolyte and osmotic regulatory mechanisms become inadequate. When fish are subjected to debilitating acid stress blood pH decreases possibly as the result of flux of H+ ions across gill membranes into the blood. This could change transepithelial potential and allow a blood, to-water diffusion of Na+ ions down an electrochemical gradient. Lowered ambient pH may interfere with gill calcium levels increasing permeability to both H+ and Na+ ions or an acidemia may occur as the result of a decrease in the excretion of metabolically produced H+ ions and CO2. When the capacity of the buffer mechanisms is exceeded the blood pH drops and the capacity of hemoglobin to transport oxygen is decreased.


Environment Acidity Toxicity Pollution Behavior Respiration Blood Oxygen transport Electrolytes 


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Copyright information

© Dr. W. Junk B.V. Publishers 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul O. Fromm
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhysiologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingU.S.A.

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