Trade-off between digestion and respiration in two airbreathing callichthyid catfishes Holposternum littorale (Hancock) and Corydoras aeneus (Gill)
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In callichthyid catfishes, the posterior intestine is modified to function as an air breathing organ by being air-filled, thin-walled and highly vascularized. These modifications make it unsuitable for digestive functions and digesta has to be transported quickly through this region to minimize disruption of vital respiratory functions. However, the weak muscles of the wall of the respiratory intestine make this problematic. It is hypothesized that the unidirectional ventilatory air current within the respiratory intestine is responsible for the quick transport of digesta through the respiratory intestine. To verify this, movement of digesta through the alimentary tract was examined in Hoplosternum littorale and Corydoras aeneus that were either allowed to breathe air or prevented from air breathing. When air breathing was prevented, digesta was not transported to the rectum in H. littorale and there was a 94% reduction in the amount of digesta in the rectum of C. aeneus. This study suggests that the anterior digestive intestine facilitates the passage of air although it is filled with digesta. The anterior digestive intestine packages digesta into a string of slightly compressed boluses, creating an air channel in the digestive intestine thus allowing air to pass unimpeded.
KeywordsHoplosternum littorale Corydoras aeneus Respiration Digestion Air breathing
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