Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 181, Issue 8, pp 1045–1062 | Cite as

Ontogeny of salinity tolerance and evidence for seawater-entry preparation in juvenile green sturgeon, Acipenser medirostris

  • Peter J. AllenEmail author
  • Maryann McEnroe
  • Tetyana Forostyan
  • Stephanie Cole
  • Mary M. Nicholl
  • Brian Hodge
  • Joseph J. CechJr.
Original Paper


We measured the ontogeny of salinity tolerance and the preparatory hypo-osmoregulatory physiological changes for seawater entry in green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris), an anadromous species occurring along the Pacific Coast of North America. Salinity tolerance was measured every 2 weeks starting in 40-day post-hatch (dph) juveniles and was repeated until 100% survival at 34‰ was achieved. Fish were subjected to step increases in salinity (5‰ 12 h−1) that culminated in a 72-h exposure to a target salinity, and treatment groups (0, 15, 20, 25, 30, 34‰; and abrupt exposure to 34‰) were adjusted as fish developed. After 100% survival was achieved (134 dph), a second experiment tested two sizes of fish for 28-day seawater (33‰) tolerance, and gill and gastrointestinal tract tissues were sampled. Their salinity tolerance increased and plasma osmolality decreased with increasing size and age, and electron microscopy revealed three types of mitochondria-rich cells: one in fresh water and two in seawater. In addition, fish held on a natural photoperiod in fresh water at 19°C showed peaks in cortisol, thyroid hormones and gill and pyloric ceca Na+, K+-ATPase activities at body sizes associated with seawater tolerance. Therefore, salinity tolerance in green sturgeon increases during ontogeny (e.g., as these juveniles may move down estuaries to the ocean) with increases in body size. Also, physiological and morphological changes associated with seawater readiness increased in freshwater-reared juveniles and peaked at their seawater-tolerant ages and body sizes. Their seawater-ready body size also matched that described for swimming performance decreases, presumably associated with downstream movements. Therefore, juvenile green sturgeon develop structures and physiological changes appropriate for seawater entry while growing in fresh water, indicating that hypo-osmoregulatory changes may proceed by multiple routes in sturgeons.


Sturgeon Ontogeny Salinity tolerance Thyroxine Na+ K+-ATPase Electron microscopy 



Bodega Marine Laboratory


Condition factor


Days post-hatch


Fresh water


Gastrointestinal tract


Mitochondria-rich cell


Na+, K+-ATPase




Total length



We thank the Yurok Tribal Council and the Yurok Fisheries Program for broodstock fish; S. Doroshov, J. Van Eenennaam, and J. Linares-Casenave for providing larval fish from the broodstock; P. Lutes, E. Hallen, K. Menard, J. Newman, B. Myers, M. Paulson, K. Brown, and W. Newman for facility assistance and recommendations; T. Allen, B. J. Zamora, N. Ponferrada, B. Hodges, R. Kaufman, D. Cocherell, T. Matsumoto, K. Jasperson, D. Hickey, A. Vlazny, A. Oye and B. Jang for technical assistance and insight; and S. Doroshov, P. Moyle, the students of WFA8212 and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript. Financial assistance was provided by the California Bay-Delta Authority (grant no. ERP-02D-P57), the Anadromous Fish Restoration Program (US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Bureau of Reclamation; grant no. 11332-1-G005), the University of California Agricultural Experiment Station (grant no. 3455-H to JJC), the UC Davis Ecology Graduate Group (Block Grant and Jastro-Shields Scholarship to PJA), the BML (travel grant to PJA), Emily Schwalen Memorial Prize, the Marin Rod and Gun Club, the Granite Bay Flycasters, and the California Federation of FlyFishers (scholarships to PJA). TF was supported by a Purchase College Undergraduate Research Support Award, and the TEM/SEM capabilities were provided by a National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Grant (No: 0116457) to J.R. Factor, Purchase College.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Allen
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Maryann McEnroe
    • 2
  • Tetyana Forostyan
    • 2
  • Stephanie Cole
    • 1
  • Mary M. Nicholl
    • 1
  • Brian Hodge
    • 1
  • Joseph J. CechJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.School of Natural and Social SciencesState University of New YorkPurchaseUSA
  3. 3.Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and AquacultureMississippi State UniversityMississippi StateUSA

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