Survival in an extreme habitat: the roles of behaviour and energy limitation
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Extreme habitats challenge animals with highly adverse conditions, like extreme temperatures or toxic substances. In this paper, we report of a fish (Poecilia mexicana) inhabiting a limestone cave in Mexico. Several springs inside the cave are rich in toxic H2S. We demonstrate that a behavioural adaptation, aquatic surface respiration (ASR), allows for the survival of P. mexicana in this extreme, sulphidic habitat. Without the possibility to perform ASR, the survival rate of P. mexicana was low even at comparatively low H2S concentrations. Furthermore, we show that food limitation affects the survival of P. mexicana pointing to energetically costly physiological adaptations to detoxify H2S.
KeywordsAquatic surface respiration Cave fish Extremophile Hypoxia Hydrogen sulphide
We thank L. Fromhage (Hamburg) and H.-U. Reyer (Zürich) for critically reading earlier drafts of the manuscript. D. McLennan and two anonymous reviewers provided very helpful comments. The Mexican Government kindly issued research permits (291002-613-1577, DGOPA/5864/260704/-2408 and 16986/191/205/-8101). Financial support came from the DFG (SCHL 344/15-1, PL 470/1-1, PL 470/1-2) and the University of Oklahoma as well as the German Ichthyological Association (to M.T. and M.P.), the Basler Foundation for Biological Research, the Janggen-Poehn-Foundation, the Roche Research Foundation and the Wolfermann-Nägeli-Foundation (to M.T.). We are deeply indebted to the people of Tapijulapa for their hospitality, especially the hotel Maison de la Sierra.
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