Plasticity of skin water permeability and skin thickness in the amphibious mangrove rivulus Kryptolebias marmoratus
The skin of amphibious fishes is a multipurpose organ, important for gas and ion exchange and nitrogen excretion when fish are out of water (emersed). We tested the hypothesis that skin permeability is altered to maintain water balance through changes in water permeability and skin thickness during salinity acclimation and/or when fish emerse, using the euryhaline, amphibious fish Kryptolebias marmoratus as a model. We first recorded the behaviour of fish out of water to determine which part of the cutaneous surface was in contact with the substrate. Fish spent about 70% of their time on their ventral surface when out of water. Osmotic permeability of the skin was assessed in fish acclimated to 0.3 or 45‰ using 3H2O fluxes in an in vitro micro-Ussing chamber setup. In freshwater-acclimated fish, 3H2O influx across the skin was significantly higher compared to hypersaline-acclimated fish, with no significant changes in efflux. Prolonged emersion (7 days) resulted in an increase in skin 3H2O influx, but not efflux in fish acclimated to a moist 45‰ substrate. In a separate experiment, dorsal epidermal skin thickness increased while the ventral dermis thickness decreased in fish emersed for over a week. However, there was no link between regional skin thickness and water flux in our experiments. Taken together, these findings suggest that K. marmoratus alter skin permeability to maximize water uptake while emersed in hypersaline conditions, adjustments that probably help them survive months of emersion during the dry season when drinking to replace water loss is not possible.
KeywordsAmphibious fish Water flux Desiccation stress Skin thickness Euryhaline Hypersaline
We thank Jim Ballantyne, Scott Kelly and Chris Wood for helpful comments on experimental design and calculations. Lori Ferguson and Hayley Ferguson are thanked for typographical assistance. Funding for this project was provided by an NSERC Discovery grant to P.A.W. and NSERC and OGS scholarships to A.J.T.
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