Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 51–106 | Cite as

Physicochemical environments and tolerances of cyprinodontoid fishes found in estuaries and salt marshes of eastern North America

  • Frank G. NordlieEmail author
Original Paper


Individuals of 28 species of cyprinodontoid fishes have been reported from estuaries/salt marshes of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America. Some species show limited latitudinal distributions and/or occupy a limited range of habitats; others are widely distributed and/or occupy a wide range of habitats.

A literature survey was made of conditions of water temperature, dissolved-oxygen (DO) concentrations, and salinities at sites where individuals of each species had been collected, and of laboratory-determined tolerances or lethal limits and other responses to those abiotic conditions. Individuals of Cyprinodon variegatus showed the widest overall range of tolerance of environmental temperatures, −1.9–45.4°C, with Gambusia rhizophorae showing the highest lower temperature-tolerance limit, 17°C. The only species highly sensitive to hypoxia was Floridichthys carpio, which showed “stress” at DO levels of 6–8 mg kg−1. All showed use of aquatic surface respiration, except for Kryptolebias marmoratus, which uses aerial respiration in the presence of H2S, and/or under hypoxic conditions. Individuals of C. variegatus were found to tolerate ambient salinities ranging from < 0.5 to 125.2, or higher, and several species of the genus Fundulus were found to tolerate concentrations ranging from <0.5 to ≥100. However, some of the species discussed cannot tolerate salinities beyond those of dilute brackish waters. In most instances, laboratory-determined tolerance limits of temperature and salinity were wider than conditions under which individuals of these species had been found in nature. The majority of available information related to adult individuals, with few studies focused on immature stages; however, existing information permitted a brief review of spawning, incubation, and early development features in Fundulus heteroclitus.

Suggestions were made, based on existing information, as to species that would be most likely to show altered population distributions resulting from continued global warming. These included five species that have tropical/subtropical, or subtropical/temperate distributions. Also, a few others were included that show extensive latitudinal distributions, most extending northward into cooler temperate regions of the Atlantic coast. At present, none of these species has shown a range alteration that can be attributed to global warming.


Cyprinodontoids Estuaries/salt marshes Eastern North America Temperature Dissolved-oxygen Salinity tolerances Global warming 


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My sincere thanks to David H. Evans and the Department of Zoology for providing work space, facilities and a computer; to Colin and Lauren Chapman for sharing space, and to Lauren Chapman for reading and criticizing the manuscript; to Brian McNab for his helpful suggestions; to George Burgess for sharing references unknown to me; to Carter Gilbert for his advice on nomenclature and background information; to Bruce Stallsmith for providing references and information on Fundulus luciae; to Dennis C. Haney and Stephen Walsh, for their help in developing new ideas, as well as in the laboratory work; to John Binello and Frank L. Davis for keeping the lab in running order, and helping collect fishes; and to the many other colleagues and students who worked with me on these killifishes. I also thank the two reviewers for their helpful comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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