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Testing hypoxia: physiological effects of long-term exposure in two freshwater fishes

Abstract

Hypoxic or oxygen-free zones are linked to large-scale mortalities of fauna in aquatic environments. Studies investigating the hypoxia tolerance of fish are limited and focused on marine species and short-term exposure. However, there has been minimal effort to understand the implications of long-term exposure on fish and their ability to acclimate. To test the effects of long-term exposure (months) of fish to hypoxia we devised a novel method to control the level of available oxygen. Juvenile golden perch (Macquaria ambigua ambigua), and silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus), two key native species found within the Murray Darling Basin, Australia, were exposed to different temperatures (20, 24 and 28 °C) combined with normoxic (6–8 mgO2 L−1 or 12–14 kPa) and hypoxic (3–4 mgO2 L−1 or 7–9 kPa) conditions. After 10 months, fish were placed in individual respirometry chambers to measure standard and maximum metabolic rate (SMR and MMR), absolute aerobic scope (AAS) and hypoxia tolerance. Golden perch had a much higher tolerance to hypoxia exposure than silver perch, as most silver perch died after only 1 month exposure. Golden perch acclimated to hypoxia had reduced MMR at 20 and 28 °C, but there was no change to SMR. Long-term exposure to hypoxia improved the tolerance of golden perch to hypoxia, compared to individuals held under normoxic conditions suggesting that golden perch can acclimate to levels around 3 mgO2 L−1 (kPa ~ 7) and lower. The contrasting tolerance of two sympatric fish species to hypoxia highlights our lack of understanding of how hypoxia effects fish after long-term exposure.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Goyder Institute for Water research for funding which contributed to the success of this research. Funding from an ARC Future Fellowship (FT100100767) is also acknowledged. We would also like to thank Owen Burnell for his assistance in developing the novel approach to degassing multiple tanks to create hypoxic conditions long term in aquaria, and Lincoln Gilmore for building the respirometry chambers. Fish were kept according to the Australian Code of Practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (8th Edition), and approved by the University of Adelaide’s animal care and ethics committee (AEC project approval S-2013-183).

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Contributions

KLG, BMG and ZAD conceived the experiment, KLG was responsible for the design of the experiment, performing the experiment and analysing data. KLG wrote the manuscript; BMG and ZAD were crucial in reviewing work and provided editorial advice.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kayla L. Gilmore.

Additional information

Communicated by Donovan P. German.

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Gilmore, K.L., Doubleday, Z.A. & Gillanders, B.M. Testing hypoxia: physiological effects of long-term exposure in two freshwater fishes. Oecologia 186, 37–47 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-3992-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-3992-3

Keywords

  • Metabolic scope
  • Sub-lethal
  • Threshold limit
  • Acclimation
  • Water management