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A new analysis of hypoxia tolerance in fishes using a database of critical oxygen level ( P crit )


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Hypoxia is a common occurrence in aquatic habitats, and it is becoming an increasingly frequent and widespread environmental perturbation, primarily as the result of anthropogenic nutrient enrichment and climate change. An in-depth understanding of the hypoxia tolerance of fishes, and how this varies among individuals and species, is required to make accurate predictions of future ecological impacts and to provide better information for conservation and fisheries management. The critical oxygen level (Pcrit) has been widely used as a quantifiable trait of hypoxia tolerance. It is defined as the oxygen level below which the animal can no longer maintain a stable rate of oxygen uptake (oxyregulate) and uptake becomes dependent on ambient oxygen availability (the animal transitions to oxyconforming). A comprehensive database of Pcrit values, comprising 331 measurements from 96 published studies, covering 151 fish species from 58 families, provides the most extensive and up-to-date analysis of hypoxia tolerance in teleosts. Methodologies for determining Pcrit are critically examined to evaluate its usefulness as an indicator of hypoxia tolerance in fishes. Various abiotic and biotic factors that interact with hypoxia are analysed for their effect on Pcrit, including temperature, CO2, acidification, toxic metals and feeding. Salinity, temperature, body mass and routine metabolic rate were strongly correlated with Pcrit; 20% of variation in the Pcrit data set was explained by these four variables. An important methodological issue not previously considered is the inconsistent increase in partial pressure of CO2 within a closed respirometer during the measurement of Pcrit. Modelling suggests that the final partial pressure of CO2 reached can vary from 650 to 3500 µatm depending on the ambient pH and salinity, with potentially major effects on blood acid–base balance and Pcrit itself. This database will form part of a widely accessible repository of physiological trait data that will serve as a resource to facilitate future studies of fish ecology, conservation and management.
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Volume 4 • 2016 10.1093/conphys/cow012
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© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press and the Society for Experimental Biology. 1
Research article
Themed Issue Article: Conservation Physiology of Marine Fishes
A new analysis of hypoxia tolerance in fishes using
a database of critical oxygen level (Pcrit)
Nicholas J. Rogers1, Mauricio A. Urbina1,†, Erin E. Reardon1, David J. McKenzie2 and Rod W. Wilson1,*
1Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Georey Pope Building, University of Exeter, Stocker Road, Exeter EX4 4QD, UK
2Centre for Marine Biodiversity Exploitation and Conservation (Marbec), UMR 9190 CNRS-Université Montpellier-Ifremer-IRD, Université
Montpellier, Place Eugène Bataillon, Montpellier cedex 5 34095, France
*Corresponding author. Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Georey Pope Building, University of Exeter, Stocker Road,
Exeter EX4 4QD, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1392 724652. Email:
Hypoxia is a common occurrence in aquatic habitats, and it is becoming an increasingly frequent and widespread environ-
mental perturbation, primarily as the result of anthropogenic nutrient enrichment and climate change. An in-depth under-
standing of the hypoxia tolerance of fishes, and how this varies among individuals and species, is required to make accurate
predictions of future ecological impacts and to provide better information for conservation and fisheries management. The
critical oxygen level (Pcrit) has been widely used as a quantifiable trait of hypoxia tolerance. It is defined as the oxygen level
below which the animal can no longer maintain a stable rate of oxygen uptake (oxyregulate) and uptake becomes dependent
on ambient oxygen availability (the animal transitions to oxyconforming). A comprehensive database of Pcrit values, compris-
ing 331 measurements from 96 published studies, covering 151 fish species from 58 families, provides the most extensive and
up-to-date analysis of hypoxia tolerance in teleosts. Methodologies for determining Pcrit are critically examined to evaluate its
usefulness as an indicator of hypoxia tolerance in fishes. Various abiotic and biotic factors that interact with hypoxia are anal-
ysed for their effect on Pcrit, including temperature, CO2, acidification, toxic metals and feeding. Salinity, temperature, body
mass and routine metabolic rate were strongly correlated with Pcrit; 20% of variation in the Pcrit data set was explained by these
four variables. An important methodological issue not previously considered is the inconsistent increase in partial pressure of
CO2 within a closed respirometer during the measurement of Pcrit. Modelling suggests that the final partial pressure of CO2
reached can vary from 650 to 3500 µatm depending on the ambient pH and salinity, with potentially major effects on blood
acid–base balance and Pcrit itself. This database will form part of a widely accessible repository of physiological trait data that
will serve as a resource to facilitate future studies of fish ecology, conservation and management.
Key words: Carbon dioxide, critical oxygen tension, metabolic rate, oxygen and capacity limitation of thermal tolerance,
physiological trait
Editor: Steven Cooke
Received 17 December 2015; Revised 17 March 2016; accepted 19 March 2016
Cite as: Rogers NJ, Urbina MA, Reardon EE, McKenzie DJ, Wilson RW (2016) A new analysis of hypoxia tolerance in shes using a database of
critical oxygen level (Pcrit). Conserv Physiol 4(1): cow012; doi:10.1093/conphys/cow012.
Present address: Departamento de Zoología, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Oceanográcas, Universidad de Concepción, Casilla 160-C,
Concepción, Chile.
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
In recent decades, there has been growing concern regarding
the increasingly widespread and frequent occurrence of
hypoxia in aquatic environments, associated with the increased
discovery of hypoxic zones globally (Diaz, 2001; Diaz and
Breitburg, 2009; Zhang et al., 2010). Although periods of
hypoxia can develop naturally in many aquatic systems,
anthropogenic inuences have been shown to be a major
driver of hypoxic events in both freshwater and marine habi-
tats (Friedrich etal., 2014). In particular, eutrophication asso-
ciated with increased anthropogenic nutrient loading of lakes,
rivers and coastal waters leads to blooms of algae and phyto-
plankton, the death of which subsequently fuels microbial res-
piration and the depletion of dissolved oxygen (Smith, 2003).
Hypoxia has been shown to result in losses of biodiversity and
to trigger widespread mortality events (Vaquer-Sunyer and
Duarte, 2008). In the marine environment, more than 400
coastal systems have been reported as eutrophication-associ-
ated ‘dead zones’ (Diaz and Rosenberg, 2008). Global warm-
ing is likely to exacerbate hypoxia in aquatic systems owing to
increased microbial respiration rates and reduced oxygen solu-
bility with increasing water temperatures (McBryan et al.,
2013). In addition, potential modications to oceanic circula-
tion linked to future climate change are predicted to result in
greater stratication and ‘deoxygenation’ of the oceans
(Keeling and Garcia, 2002; Keeling etal., 2009). In summary,
in the future, reduced oxygen concentrations are predicted to
occur more extensively, more frequently and for longer periods
of time (IPCC, 2014). Fish are among the more hypoxia sensi-
tive of aquatic taxa and, as such, the sequential loss of fauna
from aquatic ecosystems during hypoxic events is commonly
initiated by the loss or relocation of sh populations (Vaquer-
Sunyer and Duarte, 2008). Understanding the physiological
responses of individual organisms to environmental stressors,
such as hypoxia, provides a mechanistic link between environ-
mental change and population-level effects, which may be key
to predicting future ecological impacts (Chown, 2012;
Seebacher and Franklin, 2012; Cooke etal., 2013).
Fishes can show various behavioural responses to hypoxia,
such as rising to the surface to breathe the uppermost layer of
water in contact with air, increasing activity to escape the
hypoxic area or decreasing activity to reduce oxygen demand
(Chapman and McKenzie, 2009; Urbina et al., 2011;
Domenici etal., 2012). Beyond these behavioural responses,
shes can engage numerous profound physiological responses,
such as changes in ventilation, cardiac activity and haemoglo-
bin–O2 binding (Richards, 2009). These physiological
responses work primarily to sustain oxygen extraction from
the environment in order to maintain aerobic ATP produc-
tion. This allows the majority of shes to maintain stable oxy-
gen uptake rates across a wide range of ambient partial
pressures of oxygen (
O2), a response known as ‘oxyregulation’
(reviewed by Perry et al., 2009). When, however, oxygen
reduces to a threshold below which oxygen uptake rate
cannot be maintained, oxygen uptake declines linearly with a
decrease in ambient
O2, a response known as ‘oxyconform-
ing’ (Pörtner and Grieshaber, 1993; Claireaux and Chabot,
2016). This threshold, when oxygen uptake transitions from
regulation to conforming, is referred to as the critical
Beamish, 1964; Ultsch etal., 1978). As a measure of whole-
animal oxygen extraction capacity, which varies extensively
across species and among populations, Pcrit is widely used to
describe the degree of hypoxia tolerance in shes (Ultsch
etal., 1978; Chapman etal., 2002; Nilsson etal., 2007a,b;
Mandic etal., 2009; reviewed by Chapman and McKenzie,
2009; Speers-Roesch etal., 2012).
Oxygen, the key variable in Pcrit measurements, is used by
aerobic organisms as an electron acceptor in order to drive the
production of ATP. As such, the rate of oxygen uptake is
widely considered as a proxy for the rate of aerobic metabo-
lism, at least when in a steady state (Brown et al., 2004;
Nelson, 2016). Standard metabolic rate (SMR) is the oxygen
uptake rate of an entirely inactive, post-absorptive sh and
reects its minimal cost of living at a given temperature
(Beamish and Mookherjii, 1964; Chabot etal., 2016). Routine
metabolic rate (RMR) provides a similar estimate of the cost
of living but takes into account energy expended on maintain-
ing posture and making the small movements that are typical
of most shes even when in a quiescent state (McBryan etal.,
2013). In contrast, maximal metabolic rate (MMR) is the
highest rate of oxygen uptake that can be attained in dened
environmental conditions (Clark et al., 2013; Norin and
Clark, 2016). The difference between SMR and MMR is
referred to as aerobic scope and provides for the oxygen
demands of higher functions, such as locomotion, growth,
behaviour and reproduction (Farrell and Richards, 2009;
Claireaux and Chabot, 2016). In the context of this aerobic
hierarchy, several levels of critical
O2 are represented in
Figure1. As this conceptual diagram illustrates, MMR is the
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016Research article
Figure 1: Diagram illustrating the conceptual idea of the eects of
hypoxia on the standard metabolic rate (SMR), routine metabolic rate
(RMR), maximal metabolic rate (MMR) and aerobic scope (AS) of an
oxyregulator. This and may not apply to species with facultative metabolic
depression below the critical oxygen level (Pcrit). Pcmax is dened as the
critical exeternal oxygen partial pressure at which oxygen supply no
longer meets the maximum demand for oxygen (Portner, 2010).
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
rst rate to become limited as ambient oxygen decreases
(Pcmax), from which point a decline in MMR leads to a reduc-
tion in aerobic scope. Secondly, the Pcrit for RMR is reached,
whereby oxygen supply cannot sustain even minimal levels of
aerobic activity. Finally, the Pcrit for SMR indicates that oxy-
gen supply cannot meet even basic oxygen demands (Pörtner
and Lannig, 2009; Claireaux and Chabot, 2016). Below this
threshold, anaerobiosis or suppression of metabolic rate are
required to sustain life (Richards, 2009). Each of the three
levels of Pcrit may indicate the difference between mortality
and survival. If so, Pcrit may have major implications for the
tness of shes living in environments prone to hypoxia and,
as such, each of these levels can be considered as functional
traits (McGill etal., 2006; Claireaux and Chabot, 2016).
The examination of trait variation across populations and
communities, and its ecological implications, are increasingly
becoming the basis for predicting and potentially mitigating the
effects on biodiversity of environmental change (Chown, 2012).
Such trait-based approaches are facilitated by the collection
and dissemination of trait data. Large-scale multi-trait data-
bases have been compiled for various taxa, including plants
(Kattge etal., 2011), mammals (Jones et al., 2009), marine
polychaetes (Faulwetter et al., 2014) and North American
freshwater shes (Frimpong and Angermeier, 2009). As a quan-
tiable measure of hypoxia tolerance that is measured on indi-
viduals and is applicable at population level, Pcrit is useful for
incorporation into trait-based approaches to the conservation
physiology of shes (Frimpong and Angermeier, 2009).
The eld of sh physiology has generated a large body of
literature on Pcrit, across a wide range of species and in highly
variable abiotic and biotic conditions (Perry et al., 2009).
Owing to the discrete and nuanced nature of each study, it is
challenging to make broad generalizations. The aims of the
present work were as follows: (i)to assemble a database of the
Pcrit values reported for shes, from published literature, in a
format suitable for future incorporation into multi-trait-based
analyses; (ii)to analyse the data to identify how biotic and
abiotic factors (particularly temperature) interact with
hypoxia and affect Pcrit; and (iii)to appraise methodologies
for measuring Pcrit critically, and thereby evaluate its useful-
ness for quantifying hypoxia tolerance in shes. This new
analysis not only provides an opportunity for further quanti-
tative considerations but also serves as a tangible link between
the physiology and the conservation of shes.
Literature search
The citation and abstract indexes, Scopus® and Web of
Science®, were used to collect relevant peer-reviewed literature.
The literature search was conducted in December 2014 using
the following terms: ‘critical oxygen’, ‘critical PO2’, ‘oxygen
threshold’, ‘Pcrit’, ‘oxyregulate’, ‘oxyconform’ or ‘hypoxia toler-
ance’. Approximately 400 papers from relevant subject areas
were identied. Each of these articles was individually assessed
for relevance based on their title and abstract. Finally, 144
papers were downloaded for a full read of the manuscript. Of
these, only 96 papers reported Pcrit measurements in at least
one sh species.
Database construction
In order to maximize the future usefulness of the database and
to ensure that it fully reects the variation in abiotic/biotic con-
ditions in which Pcrit has previously been measured in shes, it
was necessary to extract multiple parameters from each study.
For each Pcrit entry, 66 columns summarize information on the
species and origin, acclimation parameters, animal character-
istics, experimental method, results, statistical analyses, gen-
eral comments and bibliographic information (Table1). The
database was constructed as a single Microsoft Excel le, with
individual columns for each parameter and rows for each Pcrit
determination in a particular species or treatment group. As
such, a single study may occupy several rows depending on the
number of treatment groups and/or species for which Pcrit is
reported. Values for Pcrit were reported in a variety of different
oxygen units across the literature (millimetres of mercury, torr,
percentage air saturation, milligrams of oxygen per litre and
micromolar), but were converted here to a partial pressure of
oxygen (in kilopascals) based on oxygen solubility values
reported by Green and Carrit (1967) and assuming standard
atmospheric pressure at sea level (760 mmHg), if not other-
wise reported. Likewise, all values of oxygen uptake rate were
converted to milligrams of oxygen per kilogram per hour. To
enable unbiased inter-species comparison, a subset of the full
database was produced, which included only those Pcrit mea-
surements made in shes meeting the following conditions: (i)
in an unfed or post-absorptive state; (ii) undergoing no addi-
tional (to hypoxia) abiotic stressor; and (iii) where tempera-
ture acclimation lasted for >2 days.
Database analysis
The frequency of Pcrit measurements across families and cli-
mate zones was calculated based on the full database.
However, comparisons of Pcrit values were made using the
subset ‘control’ database described above. Based on the lati-
tude of where the studies were conducted, each entry was
labelled as tropical, sub-tropical, temperature or polar.
Analysis of variance was used to test for an effect of climate
zone on Pcrit using the Sidak post hoc test.
Potential inuences of varying respirometry methodologies
and hypoxia exposure methods on Pcrit were explored using
the subset ‘control’ database, in which there are 297 data
points. Similar to the full database, the majority of studies
measured Pcrit using closed static respirometry on individual
sh, where oxygen is reduced via the oxygen consumption of
the sh (n = 202). Where there were sufcient data to compare
methods between respirometry methods within a species, a
Student’s unpaired t-test was used to compare between
groups. It was not possible to test for differences in hypoxia
exposure methods within species because there were insuf-
cient data from at least two methods.
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016 Research article
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Stepwise multiple linear regression analysis was used to
develop a model for predicting Pcrit based on biotic (body
mass, RMR) and abiotic (temperature, salinity) variables.
Earlier analysis detected no signicant within-species effect of
respirometry method (closed or ow through) on Pcrit, and it
was therefore not included in the linear regression model.
Acclimation variables such as temperature, P
O2 and salinity
were not included in this analysis because they were very
highly correlated with the equivalent variables reported dur-
ing the trials. Minimal
was not included in the model
because it is driven by Pcrit.
As the multivariate model identied salinity as a relevant
factor, the potential effect of salinity on Pcrit was explored fur-
ther by comparing Pcrit values measured in seawater (150
entries from 82 species) with Pcrit values measured in freshwa-
ter (116 entries from 50 species). This approach was taken
because most of the studies were conducted either in freshwa-
ter [0.1 practical salinity units (PSU)] or seawater (30–
38 PSU). Values of Pcrit were calculated as the partial pressure
of oxygen (in kilopascals) and as the concentration of oxygen
(in milligrams per litre), using the solubility coefcient based
on experimental temperature and salinity (Green and Carrit,
1967). Potential differences between groups were then tested
by a Mann–Whitney U-test, because normality assumptions
were violated.
Results and discussion
Database coverage
Of the 96 studies reviewed, 331 measurements of Pcrit across
151 species were incorporated into the database. Across the
global database, 58 families are represented, with Cyprinidae
(n = 44), Pomacentridae (n = 41), Gobiidae (n = 24), Cichildae
(n = 23), Salmonidae (n = 19), Cottidae (n = 18), Apogonidae
(n = 17), Percidae (n = 13) and Sparidae (n = 12) the most fre-
quently represented. Freshwater and marine (including eury-
haline) species account for 40 and 60% of Pcrit entries,
respectively. Water temperatures at which Pcrit values were
determined ranged between 1.5 and 36°C, with a mean
(±SD) of 21.7 ± 7.6°C. Values for Pcrit over the entire data set
ranged between 1.02 kPa (Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor
victoriae; Reardon and Chapman, 2010) and 16.2 kPa (Solea
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016Research article
Table 1: List of the parameters incorporated into the database alongside each reported critical oxygen level value
Species and origin Stock
method Results Statistical
and reference
Family Holding time Sample size Respirometry type Oxy regulating or
Genus Acclimation
Pcrit calculation
Species Acclimation
Mass SD Determination
units Mass SEM Swimming speed Critical
range Corresponding
Latitude and longitude Acclimation
Mass range upper Hypoxia method Critical
Acclimation pH Mass range lower Rate of hypoxia onset Critical
SEM Full citation
Acclimation time Mean length
set-point time Critical
Diet Length SD Minimal
Air breathing
Energy content Length SEM
unit Common
Ration unit Length range
Ration size Length range
Life stage pH
Feeding regimen Sex
Last feed Photoperiod
Access to air
Abbreviations: BMR, basal metabolic rate; DOI, digital object identier; MMR, maximal metabolic rate;
, oxygen uptake rate;
, partial pressure of carbon diox-
ide; Pcrit, critical oxygen level;
, partial pressure of oxygen; RMR, routine metabolic rate; SMR, standard metabolic rate.
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
solea larvae; McKenzie etal., 2008) with a mean (±SD) Pcrit in
the ‘control’ data set of 5.15 ± 2.21 kPa. Plots of species and
their reported Pcrit values from the subset data set are provided
in the Supplementary Data (Supplementary Fig.1).
The geographical coverage of the database includes at least
one entry from every continent, although North America,
Europe and Australasia are by far the most heavily represented
and, when combined, account for 87% of Pcrit entries. Perhaps
unsurprisingly, most studies of Pcrit in shes have been concen-
trated around the major sh physiology research groups in
Europe, North America and Australia. Arguably, this intro-
duces an element of bias into the database, given the incom-
plete representation of all habitats and species at a global scale.
Based on the full database, tropical studies are the most fre-
quently represented (n = 125 Pcrit measurements, dominated by
Lizard Island Research Station, Australia, n = 98), followed by
subtropical (n = 104) and temperate regions (n = 100), domi-
nated by Canada and Europe. The polar regions are the most
under-represented (n = 2). Within the subset ‘control’ database,
there was a signicant difference in mean Pcrit across climatic
regions (ANOVA, F2,297 = 4.054, P = 0.018), where tropical
shes had the lowest Pcrit (mean ± SEM: 4.92 ± 0.190 kPa) <
sub-tropical fishes (5.0 ± 0.24 kPa) < temperate fishes
(5.74 ± 0.24 kPa). However, the Sidak post hoc test suggested
that Pcrit values for tropical shes were signicantly lower only
than temperate shes (P = 0.021). There was no difference in
mean Pcrit between subtropical and either tropical (P = 0.991)
or temperate Pcrit (P = 0.085). Owing to low sample size, the
polar Pcrit values were not included in the ANOVA across tem-
peratures but, interestingly, had a higher mean Pcrit than the
other three climatic zones (7.9 ± 1.6 kPa).
Additionally, the species studied tend to be those conducive
to respirometry trials. In particular, large, active or highly sen-
sitive species, such as those of the Scombridae family (tuna,
mackerels and bonitos) are generally under-represented in the
literature (Blank etal., 2007). For example, the majority of
Pcrit values reported in the database were measured on sh
<1 kg body mass.
Methodology used to determine critical
oxygen level
The relationship between ambient
O2 and oxygen uptake in
shes has been investigated since the study of Keys (1930).
Even at that early stage, there was considerable discussion
among physiologists regarding the validity of different meth-
odologies. Technological developments, particularly methods
for measuring dissolved oxygen content such as galvanic oxy-
gen electrodes and, more recently, bre-optic sensors, have
made the performance of high-resolution measurements of
oxygen uptake in shes increasingly common (Clark et al.,
2013; Nelson, 2016). Nevertheless, the literature examined
for the purpose of building this database is characterized by
considerable variation in terms of methods used to determine
Pcrit. For example, the majority of studies (56%) used closed
respirometry for Pcrit estimates, 21% used ow-through respi-
rometry, 20% used intermittent respirometry, and 3% used
other approaches, such as indirect estimation of gill oxygen
uptake (Table2). Most studies (70%) depleted ambient oxy-
gen through the sh’s own respiration, whereas 30% of stud-
ies bubbled nitrogen gas into the water to reduce ambient
oxygen levels. The majority of studies (80%) measured RMR
for Pcrit estimates; the remaining 20% measured SMR. These
methodological differences and their implications are impor-
tant to consider when interpreting collated Pcrit data.
Closed respirometry, whereby the sh is placed within a
sealed chamber from which water is intermittently sampled
for measurement of dissolved oxygen content, provides the
simplest method of measuring oxygen uptake rate (Steffensen,
1989), as follows:
bw=−×÷×[( )](),∆∆
represents oxygen uptake rate, Vr is respirometer
volume, Vf is sh volume, ΔO2 is change in ambient oxygen con-
tent, t is time, and bw is sh mass (‘body weight’). Importantly,
water needs to be recirculated within the chamber to ensure
adequate mixing, thus preventing the stratication of dissolved
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016 Research article
Table 2: The breakdown of the number of data points representing each respirometry type and oxygen removal method in the subset database
Oxygen depletion method
Respirometry type Fish respiration N2 equilibration N2 and O2
N2 and CO2
N2, O2 and air
equilibration Total
Closed static (individual) 202 1 0 0 0 203
Closed static (grouped) 13 0 0 0 0 13
Closed ow-through (individual) 13 14 0 0 3 30
Intermittent ow (individual) 13 26 2 1 0 42
Mesocosm (grouped, large tuna) 0 1 0 0 0 1
Open ow-through (grouped) 7 0 0 0 0 7
Opercular mask 1 0 0 0 0 1
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oxygen within the chamber (Keys, 1930). Whether spontaneous
movements and ventilation are sufcient to provide mixing
depends on the species and achieving the correct sh-to-respi-
rometer volume ratio. For closed determinations of Pcrit, hypoxia
is generated by allowing the sh to deplete available oxygen
through its own respiration, therefore negating the need to strip
dissolved oxygen from the water articially through equilibra-
tion with nitrogen. For this reason, closed respirometry is par-
ticularly useful for conducting measurements of Pcrit in the eld
or at remote locations where facilities such as a supply of N2 may
not be readily available (Rosenberger and Chapman, 2000;
Nilsson etal., 2007b).
However, there are several important considerations
regarding the use of closed respirometry for determination of
Pcrit. For instance, the rate of oxygen depletion during closed
respirometry is determined by the ratio of sh size (or oxygen
uptake rate) to respirometer volume. A lack of control over
the development of hypoxia can be problematic in compara-
tive studies that use the same respirometer to measure Pcrit in
sh of different size and/or metabolic rate. As an illustrative
example, the depletion of oxygen levels from 20 to 1 kPa by
Australian barramundi (Lates calcarifer) took between 1.5
and 4 h depending on the temperature (26 or 36°C; Collins
etal., 2013). From our database, it is evident that there is very
little, if any, standardization in terms of the rate of oxygen
depletion between Pcrit studies, irrespective of which respirom-
etry method is employed. This is in contrast to measurements
of other physiological threshold traits, such as the determina-
tion of critical temperature, which tends to be made at consis-
tent warming or cooling rates among studies (0.2–0.3°C min1;
Beitinger etal., 2000; Mora and Maya, 2006; Murchie etal.,
2011). It is unclear whether the rate of decline in ambient
oxygen will signicantly affect Pcrit, but it is likely that a lon-
ger time scale would allow for greater respiratory adjust-
ments, and hence, reveal lower Pcrit values than more acute
hypoxic exposures. Indeed, our own anecdotal observations
in European ounder (Platichthys esus) suggest that these
sh tend to oxyconform across the entire range of ambient
when exposed to a very rapid reduction of oxygen (from 21 to
2 kPa in <2 h).
A further issue associated with closed respirometry is the
build-up of the waste products of metabolism, in particular
CO2 (Keys, 1930; Steffensen 1989; Urbina etal., 2012). It has
been argued that the level of CO2 accumulation within a
closed respirometer is unlikely to impact on CO2 excretion by
shes signicantly, given that they normally exhibit a blood
partial pressure of CO2 (
) of around 2–4 mmHg, much
higher than normal ambient levels (Ishimatsu etal., 2005;
Nilsson et al., 2007a). However, a precedent has been set,
albeit at more severe levels of hypercarbia (2.25–20 mmHg),
to show that elevated
can increase Pcrit in European eels
(Anguilla anguilla; Cruz-Neto and Steffensen, 1997), although
no effect on Pcrit was observed when eels were given enough
time to acclimate fully in terms of acid–base regulation
(McKenzie et al., 2003), or in spot sh (Leiostomus xan-
thurus) and mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus; Cochran and
Burnett, 1996). Given the potential inuence of hypercarbia,
it would be prudent to report any change in water
CO2 along-
side values for Pcrit that have been determined through closed
respirometry, but this has rarely been the case throughout the
existing literature. A single study so far has evaluated this
potential confounding factor in determining Pcrit, but in this
unusual oxyconforming species (inanga, Galaxias maculatus)
CO2 had no effect on oxygen uptake rate at any level
of ambient oxygen (Urbina etal., 2012). Furthermore, the
authors pointed out that the effect of CO2 on
O2 in shes
appears to be species specic (Gilmour, 2001; Ishimatsu etal.,
An important issue that does not appear to have been con-
sidered previously is that the extent to which
CO2 increases
within a closed respirometer will be highly dependent on the
starting water chemistry, in particular pH and salinity (Fig.2).
A higher seawater pH indicates a greater total alkalinity (TA).
In turn, this gives increased capacity for buffering added CO2
and limiting the increase in
for a given increase in total
CO2 attributable to net excretion by the sh in a respirometer.
Therefore, the lower the starting water pH, the larger the
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016Research article
Figure 2: Model of the estimated partial pressure of carbon dioxide
) reached, in water of dierent salinities and starting pH values,
after the addition of 140 µM CO2. The value of 140 µM approximates
the increase in total CO2 attributable to excretion by a sh at 15°C
during a closed respirometry experiment. In this theoretical example,
the oxygen level is allowed to decline as a result of respiration from a
normoxic partial pressure of >20 kPa (245 µM) to a common Pcrit value
of 6 kPa (74 µM), and we have assumed a respiratory quotient (CO2
excreted ÷ O2 consumed) of 0.85 for sh (Kieer etal., 1998). At each
starting pH, the total alkalinity (TA) and total CO2 were calculated from
the pH and assuming equilibration with atmospheric
(395 µatm).
When excreted CO2 is dissolved in water, the total CO2 increases
accordingly (in this case, by 140 µM) but TA remains unchanged
(Riebesell etal., 2010). For each starting pH, we therefore used the
CO2sys program (for the national bureau of standards pH scale) to
calculate the nal
that would result from increasing total CO2 by
140 µM while TA remained constant. This was repeated for salinities of
20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 practical salinity units (PSU) and starting pH values
of 7.5–8.5 to cover ranges experienced in many marine laboratories.
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
overall change in
CO2 over the course of the Pcrit measure-
ment. From the models shown in Figure2, it is clear that pH
has a massive inuence on the ambient
reached within
such a closed respirometry scenario, with nal
ranging by 5-fold, from 650 µatm (0.49 mmHg) to
3500 µatm (2.66 mmHg) at the highest (8.5) and lowest
(7.5) starting pH values shown, respectively. Note that even
the lowest of these nal
values has been shown (in exper-
iments designed to mimic future ‘ocean acidication’ scenar-
ios) to have signicant detrimental effects in shes (Munday
etal., 2009). When the starting pH is low, the highest
values of 3500 µatm occur, which are more than 3.5 times
higher than the ‘business as usual’ for end-of-century global
CO2 projections (representative concentration pathway sce-
nario 8.5; Meinshausen etal., 2011). It is also relevant to note
that salinity has a major modulating effect, in particular
within the middle of the range of starting pH values. For
example, at a starting pH of 8.0, the nal
will vary from
slightly <1500 µatm (1.14 mmHg) at the highest salinity
(40 PSU) to >2500 µatm (1.90 mmHg) at the lowest salinity
(20 PSU).
The larger ambient
values indicated above would cer-
tainly be expected to cause signicant blood acid–base distur-
bance during the time scale of a typical closed respirometry
experiment (minutes to hours) and thus have the potential to
inuence Pcrit via alterations in the oxygen binding afnity of
haemoglobin. It is therefore important to recognize this vari-
ability in
when conducting closed respirometry experi-
ments to determine hypoxia tolerance, and particularly, when
interpreting Pcrit measurements.
Flow-through respirometry is a technique whereby oxygen
content of the inowing (O2,in) and outowing (O2,out)
water is continuously measured at a xed water ow rate
through the respirometer (Fw). By application of the Fick prin-
ciple, oxygen uptake (
) is determined by:
(, ,) .
in bw
Although ow-through respirometry avoids the accumulation
of metabolites in the chamber, it suffers from problems pri-
marily related to the ‘wash-out’ effect, whereby a signicant
lag can develop between changes in the sh’s real
changes in observed O2,out. The degree of wash-out depends
on the dilution factor, which is a function of water mixing,
volume and ow rate (Steffensen, 1989).
Intermittent ow-through respirometry is generally consid-
ered the ideal method of
determination in shes because
it involves none of the problems associated with closed or
ow-through techniques (Steffensen, 1989; Clark etal., 2013).
The term ‘intermittent’ or ‘semi-closed’ in this context refers to
the transitioning between a closed phase for determination of
and a ush phase for restoring O2 to a set level and remov-
ing metabolites from the respirometer. As the equipment and
software for automating ush–recirculation cycles and simul-
taneous data acquisition from multiple chambers have become
more sophisticated and widely available, intermittent
flow-through respirometry has been increasingly used
(Svendsen etal., 2016). However, Pcrit measurements via this
preferred technique account for only 20% of values incorpo-
rated into the present database.
Flow-through techniques allow for the supply of hypoxic
water to the respirometry chamber. This hypoxic water can be
produced by bubbling with N2 via a solenoid valve linked to
an O2 probe (Schurmann and Steffensen, 1997) or by bub-
bling with set gas mixtures of variable O2 and N2 content.
Both methods allow for ner control of the hypoxic exposure
compared with allowing the sh to deplete ambient oxygen
levels dependent on its own
O2. Progressive hypoxia can be
generated in a stepwise fashion such that multiple
surements can be made at a specic
, thereby increasing the
likelihood of determining an
that is representative of true
SMR or RMR (Rantin etal., 1993).
Using the present database, we were able to explore differ-
ences in respirometry methods within three species, Atlantic
salmon (Salmo salar), common carp (Cyprinus carpio) and
Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), for which the sample size
for at least two methods was greater than n > 2. Between
closed static or closed ow-through respirometers, there was
no difference in Pcrit of common carp (Student’s unpaired
t-test, t = 1.429, d.f. = 6, P = 0.203). Likewise, between closed,
static respirometers (individual sh) and open ow respirom-
etry (with grouped sh), there was no difference in Pcrit in
Atlantic salmon (Student’s unpaired t-test, t = 0.678, d.f. = 8,
P = 0.517). There was no difference in Pcrit between closed,
ow-through or intermittent ow-through respirometry
within Nile tilapia (Student’s unpaired t-test, t = 0.644,
d.f. = 6, P = 0.543). In both Atlantic salmon and common
carp, oxygen levels were reduced by the respiration of the sh,
whereas in Nile tilapia the oxygen was reduced by nitrogen
equilibration. A direct comparison in the shiner perch
(Cymatogaster aggregata) found, however, that Pcrit measured
by intermittent ow-through respirometry was signicantly
lower than that measured by closed respirometry (Snyder
etal., 2016). Thus, more direct comparisons are needed to
investigate whether the two most common methodologies
might provide different estimates of Pcrit.
To determine Pcrit,
is plotted against ambient
order to identify the inection point at which
O2 transitions
from being independent of ambient oxygen to dependent on
ambient oxygen. Within this procedure, a great deal of subtle
variation exists among studies. Most obvious is the differential
use of SMR or RMR, with the majority (84%) of studies
reporting a Pcrit for RMR. Arguably, the Pcrit exhibited for
RMR is more ecologically relevant, given that this level of
is likely to be exhibited most of the time in the eld (Ultsch
etal., 1978; Pörtner, 2010). Indeed, for some highly active spe-
cies, such as salmonids, Pcrit determined during active swim-
ming may be most useful in considering the ecological
implications of hypoxia (Fry, 1957). Activity level may affect
Pcrit in unexpected ways, such as in the Adriatic sturgeon
(Acipenser naccarii), which exhibits a well-developed ability to
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016 Research article
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
oxyregulate (Pcrit = 4.9 ± 0.5 kPa) when permitted to swim at a
low sustained speed but oxyconforms across the entire range
of declining ambient oxygen when its activity is restricted in a
static respirometer (McKenzie et al., 2007). Some species
exhibit a relatively high Pcrit for RMR at a
that is well
above the P50 (half of the hemoglobin oxygen binding sites are
saturated with oxygen) of their haemoglobin. In these
instances, Pcrit may indicate a behavioural change and not sim-
ply a physical limitation of oxygen supply (McBryan etal.,
Of the studies that determine the Pcrit for SMR, the meth-
ods used for quantifying SMR vary considerably. Some stud-
ies use the single lowest
value recorded at normoxia,
whereas others take the average of a set number of the lowest
values (Iversen etal., 2010). More sophisticated and
robust methods involve extrapolating the average
sured at specied swimming speeds back to zero activity
(Wilson etal., 1994; Cook etal., 2014) or the use of percen-
tiles and frequency distributions to assess all normoxic
data (Dupont-Prinet et al., 2013). As the critical level for
basal metabolism, Pcrit determinations based on SMR should
theoretically reect a true physiological limitation of oxygen
extraction capacity (McBryan etal., 2013), although this may
not be true in species for which metabolic depression below
Pcrit has a facultative component. Given that the Pcrit for RMR
is likely to be encountered at higher
than that for SMR
(Fig.1), intra- or inter-species comparisons among studies
reporting different levels of Pcrit may not be entirely valid.
Whether SMR or RMR measurements are used to reect nor-
, it is essential that sufcient time is allowed for
the sh to acclimate to the respirometry chamber; otherwise,
apparent reductions in
as hypoxia develops may be an
artefact of increasing habituation rather than true oxycon-
forming (Nilsson etal., 2004).
The method used to establish the point of intersection
between continuous oxyregulation and oxyconforming
data is also inconsistent among studies. The slope of these lines
will determine the Pcrit and vice versa; therefore, determining
which data points should be included within each line is criti-
cal to establishing an accurate estimate of Pcrit (Yeager and
Ultsch, 1989). This can be achieved graphically by tting a
least-squares linear regression through data points that show a
progressive decline in
such that it intersects with a regres-
sion line tted through normoxic
data (Monteiro etal.,
2013). A number of mathematical methods for performing so-
called piece-wise or segmented linear regression analyses are
available, which provide greater robustness to estimates of Pcrit
and are used in the majority of studies incorporated into the
present database (Nickerson etal., 1989; Yeager and Ultsch,
1989; Leiva etal., 2015). These approaches assume that the
response of
to declining
is biphasic and consists of two
entirely linear elements, with an abrupt transition between the
two. Such assumptions are not necessarily met by real-world
data, and indeed, concentration-dependent reaction kinetics
make truly linear relationships between
O2 and
O2 unlikely
(Marshall et al., 2013). Recent developments in non-linear
regression techniques are now being promoted as a more accu-
rate approach to determining biological thresholds such as Pcrit
(Stinchcombe and Kirkpatrick, 2012; Marshall etal., 2013).
Critical oxygen level as a hypoxia tolerance
A low Pcrit is generally associated with greater hypoxia toler-
ance because it indicates a higher capacity for oxygen extrac-
tion and tissue delivery at low
(Mandic et al., 2009).
Maintaining aerobic metabolism during hypoxia is advanta-
geous because it is up to 30-fold more efcient than anaero-
bic ATP production (per unit substrate consumed) and avoids
accumulation of the deleterious by-products (e.g. H+) of
anaerobic metabolism (Richards, 2009). Hypoxia-induced
physiological modications that increase oxygen extraction
capacity, such as increased gill surface area (Nilsson, 2007)
and haemoglobin –O2 binding (Brix etal., 1999), are observed
in shes that frequently encounter hypoxia, suggesting that
maintaining aerobic metabolism is a primary hypoxia sur-
vival strategy (Mandic etal., 2009). However, when ambient
declines below Pcrit, survival depends on the availability of
substrate for O2-independent ATP production (primarily gly-
colysis) and the ability to reduce metabolic demand
(Richards, 2009).
How long a sh can maintain a balance between ATP
demand and supply below its Pcrit, and thus delay the onset of
cellular dysfunction, necrosis and subsequent death, is a key
component of hypoxia tolerance (Nilsson and Östlund-
Nilsson, 2008; Urbina and Glover, 2012; Speers-Roesch etal.,
2013). Speers-Roesch etal. (2013) showed that Pcrit does not
entirely predict hypoxia tolerance at lower oxygen levels. The
authors used three species of sculpin (Blepsias cirrhosis,
Leptocottus armatushave and Oligocottus maculosus), which
exhibit different Pcrit values (1.76, 1.48 and 1.03 kPa, respec-
tively), and exposed them to hypoxia levels that were 30%
below each of their respective Pcrit values while recording the
time to loss of equilibrium. The loss of equilibrium was con-
sistent between only two of the three species (L. armatushave
and O. maculosus). Similar relative hypoxia exposures in the
epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) and shovelnose ray
(Aptychotrema rostrata) revealed lower lactate accumulation
in epaulette sharks, indicating enhanced metabolic depression
in this species (Speers-Roesch et al., 2012). Furthermore,
Nilsson and Östlund-Nilsson (2008) showed that Pcrit did not
correlate with body mass in juvenile and adult damselsh
(Pomacentridae) ranging between 10 mg and 40 g but that
smaller sh were much less tolerant to hypoxia below Pcrit,
owing to their limited capacity for meeting ATP demand
through anaerobic metabolism. These ndings were further
supported in G. maculatus (Urbina and Glover, 2013). These
results illustrate the benet of considering Pcrit alongside other
methods of determining hypoxia tolerance, such as measure-
ments of tissue-specic lactate accumulation and determina-
tions of the loss of equilibrium of 50% of the sh, in order to
assess overall hypoxia tolerance (Urbina and Glover, 2013;
Speers-Roesch etal., 2013; Claireaux and Chabot, 2016).
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016Research article
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A recent review by Salin etal. (2015) argues that whole-
animal oxygen consumption measurements may provide only
a partial proxy for energy metabolism because of variation,
within and between individuals, in the amount of ATP pro-
duced per molecule of oxygen consumed by mitochondria
(P/O ratio). Environmental factors such as ambient tempera-
ture, food intake and diet composition have been shown both
to increase and to decrease P/O ratios in the mitochondria of
a variety of organisms (Salin etal., 2015). Hence, conclusions
based on oxygen consumption rate alone could lead to mis-
leading conclusions regarding respiratory performance during
environmental changes. To our knowledge, the effect of
hypoxia on P/O ratios in sh has yet to be investigated, and as
such, provides an interesting avenue for further research.
As a hypoxia-tolerance trait, low Pcrit can often, but not
always, indicate an ability to survive in hypoxic water. It does
not consider the use of hypoxia-avoidance strategies, such as
adaptations for emersion, aquatic surface respiration and air
breathing (Chapman and McKenzie, 2009). The inanga
(G. maculatus), which inhabits lowland streams prone to
severe hypoxia, is a rare example of a sh species that appears
to be an entirely obligate oxyconformer and thus demon-
strates no discernible Pcrit (Urbina etal., 2012). Likewise, sev-
eral species of Gymnotiform electric shes from South
America, which inhabit naturally hypoxic oodplain pools,
also appear to be obligate oxyconformers with no Pcrit
(Reardon E. E., personal communication), an observation that
is also anecdotally supported in Brachyhypopmus brevirostris
(Crampton, 1998). In some of these species, such as the
inanga, a lack of scales and a large surface area-to-volume
ratio indicate a high capacity for cutaneous O2 uptake whilst
emersed, and hence, provide a short-term means to escape
aquatic hypoxia (Urbina etal., 2011). The oxygen thresholds
for aquatic surface respiration, air breathing and emergence
were incorporated into the database, but only where they
have been reported alongside Pcrit measurements. Such exam-
ples demonstrate the limitation of Pcrit as a universal and com-
parative measure of hypoxia tolerance between species and
emphasize the benet of multi-trait-based approaches.
Biotic and abiotic interactions
Environmental stressors, such as hypoxia, rarely occur in iso-
lation, and the interaction between stressors is of key concern
in the context of predicting the ecological impacts of future
environmental change (Crain et al., 2008). As a typical
threshold effect, the response of sh to hypoxia is likely to
result in ‘ecological surprises’, whereby seemingly resilient
populations suddenly collapse once a critical threshold is
crossed (McBryan etal., 2013). Additive or synergistic inter-
actions with hypoxia could hasten the arrival of such thresh-
olds, meaning that small environmental shifts could result in
large effects on the performance of a population.
Theoretically, any abiotic or biotic factor that affects either
oxygen supply (cardiorespiratory capacity) or oxygen
demand (metabolic rate) of an individual, and the balance
therein, will have implications for its hypoxia tolerance. As
an indicator of hypoxia tolerance, the effects of a wide range
of abiotic and biotic interactions on Pcrit in sh have been
published (Table3).
The stepwise multiple linear regression found that biotic
(body mass, RMR) and abiotic (temperature, salinity) vari-
ables were highly correlated with Pcrit (see Table4). A signi-
cant regression (F4,1154 = 10.565, P < 0.001) predicted 19.5%
of the variation in the data, based on an adjusted r2 (multiple
linear regression). Predicted Pcrit is equal to 5.689 + 0.047
(salinity) 0.083(temperature) + 1.931(body mass) + 0.001
(RMR), where salinity is measured in practical salinity units,
temperature in degrees Celsius, body mass in kilograms, and
RMR in milligrams of oxygen per litre. All four variables were
signicant predictors of Pcrit in the full model (Table4).
Temperature is by far the most widely studied abiotic fac-
tor potentially interacting with hypoxia (reported in 30 spe-
cies) and is particularly relevant, given ongoing global climate
change (Ficke etal., 2007; Pörtner, 2010). As ectotherms,
oxygen demand in shes increases in a roughly exponential
manner with temperature (inter-species mean Q10 of 1.83;
Clarke and Johnston, 1999), and the intrinsic link between
temperature and environmental hypoxia has become the
basis of an overarching concept termed ‘oxygen and capacity
limitation of thermal tolerance’ (Pörtner, 2001, 2010).
Essentially, this concept suggests that the thermal tolerance of
ectotherms is dictated by their capacity to meet the oxygen
demands of aerobic metabolism. Increased temperature both
elevates basal oxygen demand (SMR) and reduces oxygen
supply (via its effect on oxygen solubility), whereas hypoxia
reduces the oxygen supply. Hence, temperature and hypoxia
are likely to act synergistically in shes. Within species,
increasing temperature generally results in a higher Pcrit, but
among species, the slope of the relationship between temper-
ature and Pcrit is highly variable (Fig.3). For example, the
Atlantic salmon (S.salar) exhibits a steep linear increase of
Pcrit in comparison to the shallower slope seen in the common
carp (C. carpio) across a similar temperature range (Ott etal.,
1980; Remen etal., 2013). A surprising exception to the gen-
erally positive intra-species correlation between temperature
and Pcrit was observed in four out of six species of darter
(Etheostoma), for which Pcrit was lower at 20 than 10°C
(Ultsch etal., 1978). Variation in the sensitivity of species to
temperature in terms of hypoxia tolerance may arise because
of differences in their potential for thermal acclimation.
Explanations for this variation may include reducing the
metabolic impact of increased temperature or enhancing oxy-
gen extraction capacity (Ott et al., 1980; Pörtner, 2010).
Species exhibit highly contrasting capacities for plastic accli-
mation responses. At opposite ends of this spectrum, crucian
carp (Carassius carassius) can dramatically increase respira-
tory surface area through gill remodelling in response to tem-
perature and hypoxia (Sollid etal., 2005), whereas certain
tropical reef sh species (Ostorhinchus doederleini and
Pomacentrus moluccensis) demonstrate no thermal acclima-
tion ability even over a relatively modest temperature range
(29–32°C; Nilsson etal., 2010).
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016 Research article
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Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016Research article
Table 3: Summary of biotic and abiotic factors and their interactions with the intra-species critical oxygen level as reported by studies included
in the database
Variable Species Eect on Pcrit Reference
Increasing temperature
Gadus morhua Increase Schurmann and Steensen (1997)
Lates calcarifer Increase Collins etal. (2013)
Scyliorhinus canicula Increase Butler and Taylor (1975)
Salmo salar Increase Barnes etal. (2011)
S. salar Increase Remen etal. (2013)
Dentex dentex Increase Cerezo Valverde et al. (2006)
Tautogolabrus adspersus Increase Corkum and Gamperl (2009)
Gadus ogac Increase Corkum and Gamperl (2009)
Bellapiscis medius Increase Hilton etal. (2008)
Bellapiscis lesleyae Increase Hilton etal. (2008)
Morone saxatilis Increase Lapointe etal. (2014)
Carassius carassius Increase Sollid etal. (2005)
Gobiodon histrio Increase Sørensen et al. (2014)
Gobiodon erythrospilus Increase Sørensen et al. (2014)
Oreochromis niloticus Increase Fernandes and Rantin (1989)
Cyprinus carpio Increase Ott etal. (1980)
Oncorhynchus mykiss Increase Ott etal. (1980)
Pomacentrus moluccensis Increase Nilsson etal. (2010)
Ostorhinchus doederleini Increase Nilsson etal. (2010)
Carassius auratus grandoculis No eect Yamanaka etal. (2013)
Etheostoma boschungi Decrease Ultsch etal. (1978)
Etheostoma fusiforme Decrease Ultsch etal. (1978)
Etheostoma abellare Decrease Ultsch etal. (1978)
Etheostoma rulineatum Decrease Ultsch etal. (1978)
Increasing salinity
Cottus asper Decrease Henriksson etal. (2008)
Leptocottus armatus No eect Henriksson etal. (2008)
Cyprinus carpio Increase De Boeck et al. (2000)
Cyprinodon ariegatus Increase Haney and Nordlie (1997)
Fundulus heteroclitus No eect Cochran and Burnett (1996)
Leiostomus xanthurus No eect Cochran and Burnett (1996)
Anguilla anguilla Increase Cruz-Neto and Steensen (1997)
Platichthys esus Increase Rogers (2015)
Hypoxic acclimation
Pagrus auratus No eect Cook etal. (2013)
S. salar No eect Remen etal. (2013)
Hemiscyllium ocellatum Decrease Routley etal. (2002)
Spinibarbus sinensis Decrease Dan etal. (2014)
C. auratus Decrease Fu etal. (2011)
Poecilia latipinna Decrease Timmerman and Chapman (2004 a,b)
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016 Research article
Table 3: continued
Variable Species Eect on Pcrit Reference
Reared in hypoxic environment
Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor Decrease Reardon and Chapman (2010)
Exercise pre-conditioning
C. auratus Decrease Fu etal. (2011)
Astronotus ocellatus Increase De Boeck et al. (2013)
Oreochromis niloticus Increase Mamun etal. (2013)
Perca uviatilis Increase Thuy etal. (2010)
Fatty acid-enriched diet
Solea solea (larvae) Decrease McKenzie etal. (2008)
S. solea (juveniles) Decrease McKenzie etal. (2008)
Increasing body mass
Hypostomus plecostomus Decrease Perna and Fernandes (1996)
Astronotus ocellatus Decrease Sloman etal. (2006)
Pomacentridae No eect Nilsson and Östlund-Nilsson (2008)
Pre- to post-settlement (larvae)
Chromis atripectoralis Decrease Nilsson etal. (2007a,b)
Pomacentrus amboinensis Decrease Nilsson etal. (2007a,b)
Larvae to juveniles
C. auratus grandoculis Decrease Yamanaka etal. (2013)
Juveniles to adults
Reinhardtius hippoglossoides Decrease Dupont-Prinet etal. (2013)
Increasing brood size
(mouthbrooders) Zoramia fragilis Increase Östlun-Nilsson and Nilsson (2004)
Zoramia leptacantha Increase Östlun-Nilsson and Nilsson (2004)
Mycobacteriosis infection
Morone saxatilis Increase Lapointe etal. (2014)
Acidied water
Salmo gairdneri Increase Ultsch etal. (1980)
Cyprinus carpio Increase Ultsch etal. (1980)
Metal exposure
Brycon amazonicus Increase Monteiro etal. (2013) (Hg2+)
C. carassius Increase Schjolden etal. (2007) (Cu2+)
Perca uviatilis Increase Bilberg etal. (2010) (AgNO3)
P. uviatilis Increase Bilberg etal. (2010) (nano-Ag)
Organophosphate exposure
Oreochromis niloticus Increase Thomaz etal. (2009)
Pagrus auratus Increase Cook etal. (2011)
, partial pressure of carbon dioxide; Pcrit, critical oxygen level.
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
Unlike intra-species Pcrit, there is no apparent relationship
between temperature and inter-species Pcrit (Fig.3), suggesting
that evolution may have nullied the thermal sensitivity of
hypoxia tolerance across species. It has been shown that the
difference in RMR between a typical cold-water and warm-
water sh is less than expected, given the thermal sensitivity of
RMR within individual species (intra-species median
Q10 = 2.4; Clarke and Johnston, 1999). In addition, gill surface
area appears to scale in a linear manner with metabolic rate,
implying that natural selection equips shes with the oxygen
extraction capacity required to match demand at higher tem-
peratures (Nilsson and Östlund-Nilsson, 2008). Selective pres-
sures for small gills, such as the osmorespiratory compromise
(Nilsson, 1986; Gonzalez and McDonald, 1992; Urbina and
Glover, 2015), gill parasites and risks associated with gill
injury, are likely to limit respiratory surface area so that oxy-
gen extraction capacity does not exceed that required by a par-
ticular species for survival in its natural range (Nilsson, 2007).
Thus, generalizations regarding hypoxia tolerance across tem-
peratures cannot be established rmly at the inter-species level.
Although salinity has long been recognized as a key envi-
ronmental factor, studies evaluating the effects of salinity on
Pcrit are scarce. A previous study in the euryhaline sheephead
minnow (Ciprinodon variegatus), acclimated to salinities
from freshwater (0 PSU) to hypersaline waters (100 PSU),
showed a marked effect on Pcrit (Haney and Nordlie 1997) as
environmental salinity rose. Inter-specic comparisons in the
database agree with this previous intra-specic nding; that is,
salinity had a signicant inuence on Pcrit, whereby freshwater
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016Research article
Table 4: Results of the stepwise linear regression analysis where salinity, body mass, routine metabolic rate (RMR) and temperature had zero-
order r correlations with Pcrit (P < 0.05) and with each other, where values were reported
Zero-order r (n = 159)
Variable Salinity
(psu) Temperature (°C) Body mass (kg) RMR (mg O2 l1)Pcrit
(kPa) βsr2b
Salinity 0.317 0.165 0.354 0.279 0.346 0.099 0.047
Temperature 0.366 0.141 0.314 0.081 0.083
Body mass 0.166 0.166 0.242 0.056 1.931
RMR 0.17 0.202 0.032 0.001
Mean 23.54 23.1 0.1 323.84 5.4 Intercept = 4.027
SD 15.36 7.9 0.3 434.04 2.1 Adjusted r2 = 0.195 P < 0.001
Abbreviations: Pcrit, critical oxygen level; RMR, routine metabolic rate. In the full model, all four variables were signicant predictors of Pcrit.
Figure 3: The eect of temperature on inter-species critical oxygen level (Pcrit; black dashed line) and intra-species Pcrit (continuous lines).
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
species (including a few euryhaline species) presented a 23%
lower Pcrit than seawater species (also including a few euryha-
line species; Fig.4A; P 0.001).
As explained in earlier sections, any factor inuencing the
oxygen demand (metabolic rate) of an individual will be likely
to have implications for its hypoxia tolerance. Given that tele-
ost shes must maintain a tight regulation of their internal
salts and water composition (osmolality), as external salinity
changes or becomes extreme, shes must expend increased
efforts to maintain internal homeostasis (Urbina and Glover,
2015). As many of the mechanisms of osmoregulation involve
the action of ATP-driven pumps (i.e. Na+,K+-ATPase) in order
to pump ions against a concentration gradient, increased costs
of osmoregulation may explain, in part, some of these differ-
ences in Pcrit, at least for intra-specic comparisons. However,
from our database (inter-specic), where more freshwater vs.
seawater species comparison are presented, it is likely that
other mechanisms are explaining differences in Pcrit. Given
that seawater species separated million years ago from a fresh-
water ancestor (actinoptyergians, 300–180 million years ago;
Vega and Wiens, 2012), both fresh- and seawater species have
adapted to their respective environments, and therefore, have
also optimized their energy allocated to osmoregulation.
Thus, the differences in Pcrit found in the present study, rather
than being explained by energy-related/oxygen demand issues,
could be associated with intrinsic characteristics of both
media (freshwater vs. seawater). Owing to differences in size,
organic matter load and stability, hypoxia is much more prev-
alent and common in freshwater than in seawater environ-
ments. As such, the driver for an enhanced hypoxia tolerance
(lower Pcrit) could potentially explain the lower Pcrit found in
freshwater species. A future phylogenetic analysis might con-
tribute to test this hypothesis.
It is also worth noting that the difference found in Pcrit
when presented as the partial pressure of oxygen (in kilopas-
cals) was no longer found when Pcrit was calculated as the
concentration (in milligrams per litre; (Fig.4B; P > 0.05). This
could potentially highlight the importance of working with
partial pressure, because this is what drives diffusion when
considering gases. Alternatively, it could indicate that the oxy-
gen concentration is more relevant when considering Pcrit val-
ues, because it determines the total amount of oxygen that is
potentially available for diffusion as water ows over the gills,
i.e. for the same oxygen uptake, salinity (through its effect on
solubility) will have a big effect on the difference between
inspired and expired
The biological processes that consume O2 also produce
CO2; therefore, hypoxia and hypercarbia can often co-occur
in aquatic environments (Ultsch, 1996; Cruz-Neto and
Steffensen, 1997; Gilmour, 2001). Despite this, the interactive
effect of environmental hypercarbia on hypoxia tolerance has
been relatively understudied. As previously discussed
(Table3), there are conicting reports within the available
literature regarding to the effect of hypercarbia on the Pcrit of
shes (Cochran and Burnett, 1996; Cruz-Neto and Steffensen,
1997; McKenzie etal., 2003). The most likely mechanism by
which hypercarbia could negatively impact hypoxia tolerance
is through respiratory acidosis, leading to Bohr/Root effects
on haemoglobin and reduced oxygen transport capacity
(Jensen etal., 1993; Cruz-Neto and Steffensen, 1997). In this
respect, hypercarbia is partly akin to the far more extreme
acidosis that can occur in poorly buffered freshwater environ-
ments subjected to acid precipitation or drainage. Acidication
of the surrounding water by addition of sulphuric acid (water
pH range 7.4–4.0, at constant atmospheric
CO2) increases Pcrit
in both rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and common
carp (Cyprinus carpio; Ultsch etal., 1980). The time required
to compensate for acid–base disturbance is highly variable
among species (10–24 h during moderate hypercarbia;
Melzner etal., 2009), and as such, the effect of hypercarbia
and acidication on hypoxia tolerance is likely to be dependent
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016 Research article
Figure 4: The eect of environmental salinity on inter-species critical
oxygen level (Pcrit), expressed as partial pressure of oxygen (in
kilopascals; A) and concentration of oxygen (in milligrams per litre; B).
Data are shown as means + SEM, including data from 82 species in
seawater and 50 species in freshwater. *Unpaired t-test, signicant
when P < 0.050.
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
largely on the species in question as well as the severity and
duration of the hypercarbic or acid exposure (Jensen etal.,
Exposure to toxicants, such as trace metal contamination,
appears to reduce hypoxia tolerance in shes. Specically,
exposure to elevated concentrations of copper (300 µg l1),
mercury (150 µg l1) and silver (63 µg l1) have been demon-
strated to increase Pcrit in various species (Table3). The accu-
mulation of toxic metals on the gills can stimulate the
hypersecretion of mucus, which acts as a barrier to diffusion
of external toxicants into the blood (McDonald and Wood,
1993; Wilson et al., 1994). In addition, some trace metals
cause hyperplasia and hypertrophy of gill epithelia cells that
results in the fusing and thickening of gill lamellae (Schjolden
etal., 2007; Bilberg etal., 2010). As a consequence, respira-
tory function is compromised as a result of reduced diffusion
area and increased diffusion distance (McDonald and Wood,
1993). The organophosphate insecticide trichlorfon has been
shown to increase Pcrit by inducing similar changes in gill mor-
phology as well as by promoting vasoconstriction that reduces
lamellar blood ow in Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus;
Thomaz et al., 2009). These potential interactions between
toxic contaminants and hypoxia in shes are clearly of con-
cern, particularly given that both stressors predominantly
threaten freshwater and coastal marine systems and are there-
fore likely to coincide (McDonald and Wood, 1993; Diaz and
Rosenberg, 2008).
Determinations of Pcrit in shes have almost universally
been made in unfed, post-absorptive individuals which,
although providing a useful basis for comparing absolute
hypoxia tolerance among species and individuals, does not
fully account for the digestive state typical of shes in their
natural setting. An increase in oxygen uptake following inges-
tion of food, termed specic dynamic action (SDA), is required
in order to meet the energetic costs associated with mechani-
cal and biochemical digestion and assimilation (Jobling,
1993). Shortly after a meal, oxygen uptake in sh typically
rises rapidly, reaching a peak two to three times higher than
pre-fed levels within a few hours. The shape and duration of
the SDA is highly dependent on the species in question as well
as the meal size and composition (Secor, 2009). Measurements
of Pcrit in shes undergoing SDA have revealed signicant
increases in Pcrit compared with unfed control shes, showing
that increased aerobic demand during digestion has negative
consequences for hypoxia tolerance (Table 3). In common
perch (Perca uviatilis) force-fed a 5% body mass ration, Pcrit
at 20 h post-feeding was increased by 1.44-fold compared
with sham-fed individuals (Thuy et al., 2010). Likewise,
oscars (Astronotus ocellatus) fasted for 14 days showed a 1.6-
fold lower Pcrit than individuals fed a daily 1% body mass
ration up to 24 h prior to Pcrit determination (De Boeck etal.,
2013). In such experiments, the requirement for a stable
on which to base a determination of Pcrit means that measure-
ments at peak SDA are not feasible, and thus, are likely to
underestimate the effect of digestion on hypoxia tolerance
(Thuy etal., 2010).
Several studies have investigated the effect of hypoxia accli-
mation on Pcrit (Table3). Broadly, short-term physiological
acclimation to hypoxia appears to be achieved through either
enhanced O2 extraction capacity or metabolic depression. In
goldsh (Carassius auratus), 48 h of severe (0.63 kPa) hypoxia
induced dramatic increases in both lamellar surface area and
blood haemoglobin content, leading to a 49% reduction in Pcrit
compared with individuals held at normoxia (Fu etal., 2011).
Likewise, sailn molly (Poecilia latipinna) demonstrated
increased haemoglobin and red blood cell concentrations and
a reduced Pcrit following a 6 week exposure to severe hypoxia
(Timmerman and Chapman, 2004a). Depression of RMR at
normoxia and a subsequent reduction in Pcrit following chronic
hypoxic exposure has been observed in the epaulette shark
(H.ocellatum; Routley etal., 2002) and qingbo (Spinibarbus
sinensis; Dan etal., 2014). However, some less hypoxia-toler-
ant species appear to demonstrate no physiological acclima-
tion potential through hypoxic pre-conditioning. Daily
exposure to 6 h of moderate hypoxia (10.5 kPa) for 33 days
had no effect on Pcrit in post-smolt Atlantic salmon (S. salar;
Remen etal., 2013). Additionally, chronic (6 week) moderate
hypoxia produced no change in the Pcrit of juvenile snapper
(Pagrus auratus; Cook etal., 2013).
As hypoxia is likely to become an increasingly predomi-
nant aquatic perturbation in the future (Vaquer-Sunyer and
Duarte, 2008; Keeling etal., 2009), the degree of physiologi-
cal plasticity for hypoxia tolerance will be a key determinant
of species performance. The potential for long-term and trans-
generational hypoxia acclimation with respect to Pcrit has been
largely unstudied. A transgenerational transfer of hypoxia
tolerance has been demonstrated in zebrash (Danio rerio)
larvae after 2–4 weeks of parental hypoxia exposure, but this
was based on determinations of time to loss of equilibrium
(4 kPa O2) rather than through measurement of Pcrit (Ho and
Burggren, 2012). Reardon and Chapman (2010) demon-
strated a strong element of developmental plasticity in the Pcrit
of the Egyptian mouthbrooder (Pseudocrenilabrus multi-
color) when reared in hypoxic conditions. In addition, intra-
species population effects on Pcrit across habitats of differing
O2 regimens have been observed in several species, indicating
that a high degree of phenotypic plasticity for Pcrit exists
within these populations (Timmerman and Chapman, 2004b;
Reardon and Chapman 2010; Fu etal., 2011).
Future applications
The comprehensive Pcrit database presented here provides the
opportunity for a variety of further analyses with potential to
offer fundamental physiological, as well as wider ecological,
insights. For example, further analyses could involve compar-
ing species Pcrit values within a phylogenetic context as a
means to investigate the evolutionary relationships of hypoxia
tolerance among species (Mandic etal., 2009). Likewise, com-
bining species Pcrit data with information on the spatial distri-
bution of populations would help to rene our understanding
of the ecological relevance of Pcrit as a physiological trait. Such
an analysis would be particularly relevant to predicting the
Conservation Physiology • Volume 4 2016Research article
at University of Exeter on April 29, 2016 from
impacts on sh populations likely to arise from the increas-
ingly widespread occurrence of hypoxic zones in aquatic envi-
ronments around the globe (Friedrich etal., 2014). Given the
variability found in the reported Pcrit for different sh species,
it is likely that hypoxic events will have consequences that are
very dependent on individual species. This highlights the com-
plexity of predicting the effects that hypoxia will have at
community and ecosystem levels, and the potential for
hypoxia to have differential effects on predator-prey interac-
tions, migrations, and ultimately, global sheries.
The integration of the present database with similar data-
bases of other widely measured physiological parameters in
shes should offer useful insights into interactions among
traits. Such physiological data are of great value for improv-
ing the predictive capacity of models as an aid to the manage-
ment and conservation of aquatic systems (Jørgensen etal.,
2012; Cooke etal., 2013). Traits for which databases are cur-
rently under construction include the metabolic response to
feeding (SDA), aerobic scope, growth rate and critical tem-
perature. On completion, the combined data set will be made
widely accessible via an online data repository facility, such as
that provided by Dryad ( Thus, it is
envisaged that these data will prove to be a tangible link
between the eld of sh physiology and future studies of ecol-
ogy, conservation and management.
Supplementary material
Supplementary material is available at Conservation
Physiology online.
The authors wish to thank Silvana Birchenough and Julian
Metcalfe (Cefas, Lowestoft, UK) for their mentoring and
encouragement in the creation of the Pcrit database.
This work was supported by a Natural Environment Research
Council (NERC, UK) PhD studentship awarded to
N.J.R./R.W.W. and NERC and Biotechnology and Biological
Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) research grants (NE/
H010041/1, BB/D005108/1 and BB/J00913X/1) awarded to
R.W.W. The physiological database is a contribution of the
European Union Cooperation in Science and Technology
(COST) Action (FA1004) on the ‘Conservation Physiology of
Marine Fishes’. The same EU COST Action supported this
work as a Short Term Scientic Mission (STSM). For more
information, see: http://
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... As hypoxia tolerance relates to a mismatch between oxygen supply and oxygen demand, we focus on factors that relate to supply and demand. For example, water temperature affects both the availability of oxygen and the metabolic demand for oxygen , and Pcrit has been reported to vary with temperature (Rogers et al. 2016;Deutsch et al. 2020). In addition to temperature, we investigate the effects of body mass and cell size on hypoxia tolerance, as well as their interactions (see below). ...
... In addition to temperature, we investigate the effects of body mass and cell size on hypoxia tolerance, as well as their interactions (see below). Because previous studies have documented effects on hypoxia tolerance related to the salinity of the water and the metabolic rate of fishes (Rogers et al. 2016;., we also included these factors to complete our models. ...
... Several studies comparing multiple species, however, report no clear effect of mass on P crit in fishes (Nilsson & Östlund-Nilsson 2008;. Rogers et al. (2016) investigated the effects of body mass together with several environmental parameters and found a positive relationship between fish size and P crit (i.e. aerobic metabolism is limited at higher oxygen tensions in larger fishes compared to smaller ones). ...
... Fry recommended P crit be determined as the intercept of a maximum oxygen uptake rate ( _ M O2,Max )-P O 2 curve (i.e. a limiting oxygen level curve, [13]) and SMR to define P crit based on an empirically determined threshold in aerobic scope [9]. Metabolic analyses of P crit estimated under this definition support the Fry hypothesis [14]; however, the vast majority of P crit measurements are made in resting fish exposed to progressive hypoxia [15], and recent analyses of best practices continue to advocate for estimation of P crit in resting fish [16,17]. The discrepancy between the theoretical definition of P crit and its usual method of empirical estimation [15] has led to controversy surrounding the physiological significance of this trait [10,[18][19][20][21][22][23]. ...
... Metabolic analyses of P crit estimated under this definition support the Fry hypothesis [14]; however, the vast majority of P crit measurements are made in resting fish exposed to progressive hypoxia [15], and recent analyses of best practices continue to advocate for estimation of P crit in resting fish [16,17]. The discrepancy between the theoretical definition of P crit and its usual method of empirical estimation [15] has led to controversy surrounding the physiological significance of this trait [10,[18][19][20][21][22][23]. Critics claim P crit measured in resting fish does not indicate the reduction of aerobic scope to nil or a concomitant transition to supplemental anaerobic metabolism in hypoxia. ...
... O. maculosus remains quiescent during acute progressive hypoxia exposure [32], but agitated activity during hypoxia exposure could confound analyses of P crit in other species and should be taken into account. P crit clearly responds to acclimation to various stressors [15,[35][36][37][38] and evolves in species that have invaded permanently hypoxic or oxygenvariable environments [35,[39][40][41], complicating a straight-forward use of P crit data in projections of species responses to climate change using models which do not account for these processes [42]. Although unifying methodological approaches may result in support for the Fry conception of P crit in species where previously there was not (e.g. ...
The critical oxygen tension of whole-animal oxygen uptake rate, or P crit , has historically been defined as the oxygen partial pressure ( P O 2 ) at which aerobic scope falls to zero and further declines in P O 2 require substrate-level phosphorylation to meet shortfalls in aerobic ATP production, thereby time-limiting survival. Despite the inclusion of aerobic scope and anaerobic ATP production in the definition, little effort has been made to verify that P crit measurements, the vast majority of which are obtained using respirometry in resting animals, actually reflect the predictions of zero aerobic scope and a transition to increasing reliance on anaerobic ATP production. To test these predictions, we compared aerobic scope and levels of whole-body lactate at oxygen partial pressures ( P O 2 s) bracketing P crit obtained in resting fish during progressive hypoxia in the tidepool sculpin, Oligocottus maculosus . We found that aerobic scope falls to zero at P crit and, in resting fish exposed to P O 2 s < P crit , whole-body lactate accumulated pointing to an increased reliance on anaerobic ATP production. These results support the interpretation of P crit as a key oxygen threshold at which aerobic scope falls to nil and, below P crit , survival is time-limited based on anaerobic metabolic capacity.
... Hypoxia can cause detrimental physiological disturbances in fish, depending on severity (Hvas & Oppedal, 2019). Because of their importance, numerous studies have investigated hypoxic influences on teleosts, including their influence on metabolic processes (Aboagye & Allen, 2014;Cruz-Neto & Steffensen, 1997;Li et al., 2018;Rogers et al., 2016). Hypoxia can affect oxygen availability, limiting aerobic ATP production and leading to less efficient anaerobic metabolism (Richards, 2009). ...
... The SMR and LDOT at the temperatures examined suggest speckled peacock bass are not as hypoxia tolerant as Mayan cichlid.Speckled peacock bass demonstrated a decrease in hypoxia tolerance with an increase in temperature. This relationship has been demonstrated in many fishes and indicates an increase in the oxygen tension at which aerobic metabolism can no longer be supported (P crit ) as temperature increases(Rogers et al., 2016). In the current study, MO 2 gradually declined with decreasing oxygen tension regardless of temperature. ...
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Speckled peacock bass Cichla temensis is a popular sport and food fish that generates substantial angling tourism and utilitarian harvest within its range. This popularity and value make this species important for management and a potential aquaculture candidate for both fisheries enhancement and food fish production. However, little is known of optimal conditions in natural habitats which also are important for development of hatchery protocols for handling, spawning, and grow‐out. Speckled peacock bass have been documented to have high sensitivity to extreme temperatures, but the metabolic underpinnings have not been evaluated. In this study, the effects of temperature (25, 30, and 35°C) on standard metabolic rate (SMR) and lower dissolved oxygen tolerance (LDOT) of juvenile speckled peacock bass (mean ± standard error total length: 153 ± 2 mm, and wet weight: 39.09 ± 1.37 g) were evaluated using intermittent respirometers after an acclimation period of 2 weeks. Speckled peacock bass had the highest SMR at 35°C (345.56 ± 19.89 mg O2/kg/hr), followed by 30°C (208.16 ± 12.45 mg O2/kg/hr), and 25°C (144.09 ± 10.43 mg O2/kg/hr). Correspondingly, the Q10, or rate of increase in aerobic metabolic rate (MO2) relative to 10°C, for 30‐35°C was also greater (2.76) than from 25‐30°C (2.08). Similarly, speckled peacock bass were the most sensitive to hypoxia at the warmest temperature, with a LDOT at a pO2 of 90 mmHg (4.13 mg/L) at 35°C compared to pO2's of 45 mmHg (2.22 mg/L) and 30 mmHg (1.61 mg/L) at 30°C and 25°C, respectively. These results indicate speckled peacock bass are sensitive to temperatures near 35°C; therefore, we recommend managing and rearing this species at 25‐30°C.
... In addition, tunas are generally slightly negatively buoyant and as a result need to maintain minimum sustained swimming speeds required for achieving hydrostatic equilibrium [56,57]. Because of their limited tolerance of interruptions to water flow over their gills, individuals for BCT implantation can be unventilated for only between 30 s and 3 min before stress and oxygen depletion compromise their post-release survival [79]. Tunas are also thermo-conserving (i.e., they maintain swimming muscle temperatures above ambient) and regulate their body temperatures through physiological mechanisms and by rapid vertical movements through the thermocline [30,31,44]. ...
Full-text available
Archival (data-storage) and telemetry (acoustic and radio) tags are commonly used to provide data on the behavior and physiology of organisms, as well as data on their surrounding environment. For fishes, it is often advantageous to implant tags in the peritoneal cavity (i.e., intracoelomic implantation). The literature on best practices is limited for marine species, and near absent for tunas despite their regular application. We identify recommended practices using laparotomy in tropical tuna species following observations from thousands of tags implantations undertaken during implementation of several tagging programs across the Pacific. These recommended practices include descriptions of preferred tagging stations and equipment, fish selection, surgical procedures, and return of the fish to the wild. While these recommended practices were developed specifically for tropical tuna species, they are also likely applicable for other pelagic fishes. We present these guidelines to guide and promote the development of best practices for such procedures on pelagic species.
... At the extremes of the large spectrum of adaptation to O 2 availability, several fish species evolved the ability to survive even in the presence of O 2 below the critical tension (Pcrit), thus tolerating prolonged hypoxia and/or anoxia [3][4][5]. An example is represented by the teleost belonging to cyprinids, which are champions of hypoxia/anoxia tolerance. ...
Full-text available
Aquatic animals are increasingly challenged by O2 fluctuations as a result of global warming, as well as eutrophication processes. Teleost fish show important species-specific adaptability to O2 deprivation, moving from intolerance to a full tolerance of hypoxia and even anoxia. An example is provided by members of Cyprinidae which includes species that are amongst the most tolerant hypoxia/anoxia teleosts. Living at low water O2 requires the mandatory preservation of the cardiac function to support the metabolic and hemodynamic requirements of organ and tissues which sustain whole organism performance. A number of orchestrated events, from metabolism to behavior, converge to shape the heart response to the restricted availability of the gas, also limiting the potential damages for cells and tissues. In cyprinids, the heart is extraordinarily able to activate peculiar strategies of functional preservation. Accordingly, by using these teleosts as models of tolerance to low O2, we will synthesize and discuss literature data to describe the functional changes, and the major molecular events that allow the heart of these fish to sustain adaptability to O2 deprivation. By crossing the boundaries of basic research and environmental physiology, this information may be of interest also in a translational perspective, and in the context of conservative physiology, in which the output of the research is applicable to environmental management and decision making.
... In euryhaline fishes, the cost of osmoregulation appears to be species specific, with estimates ranging from virtually zero to one-third of standard metabolism (reviewed by Ern et al., 2014; see also Nilsson et al., 2012). Furthermore, increasing salinity has been associated with reduced hypoxia tolerance in fish (Rogers et al., 2016;Verberk et al., 2022). In coastal and estuarine marine invertebrates, similarly high costs of osmoregulation may be incurred, especially when organisms hyperregulate in low-salinity water (Rivera-Ingraham Box 1: Causes and consequences of reactive oxygen species ...
Full-text available
Oxygen bioavailability is declining in aquatic systems worldwide as a result of climate change and other anthropogenicstressors. For aquatic organisms, the consequences are poorly known but are likely to reflect both direct effects of declining oxygen bioavailability and interactions between oxygen and other stressors, including two—warming and acidification—that have received substantial attention in recent decades and that typically accompany oxygen changes. Drawing on the collected papers in this symposium volume (“An Oxygen Perspective on Climate Change”), we outline the causes and con-sequences of declining oxygen bioavailability. First, we discuss the scope of natural and predicted anthropogenic changes in aquatic oxygen levels. Although modern organisms are the result of long evolutionary histories during which they were exposed to natural oxygen regimes, anthropogenic change is now exposing them to more extreme conditions and novel combinations of low oxygen with other stressors. Second, we identify behavioral and physiological mechanisms that underlie the interactive effects of oxygen with other stressors, and we assess the range of potential organismal responses to oxygen limitation that occur across levels of biological organization and over multiple timescales. We argue that metabolism and energetics provide a powerful and unifying framework for understanding organism-oxygen interactions. Third, we conclude by out-lining a set of approaches for maximizing the effectiveness of future work, including focusing on long-term experiments using biologically realistic variation in experimental factors and taking truly cross-disciplinary and integrative approaches to under-standing and predicting future effects.
... Similarly, oxygen levels can be reduced until LOE to determine the Incipient lethal oxygen saturation (ILOS). If oxygen uptake is also measured, the critical (minimum) oxygen level (Po 2crit , P crit or O 2crit ) to sustain SMR can be determined (for review see Claireaux and Chabot, 2016;Rogers et al., 2016). P crit is sensitive to pollutant exposure (De Boeck et al., 1995;Monteiro et al., 2021;Rodgers et al., 2021) and to changes in SMR . ...
An endless list of new chemicals are entering nature, which makes it an impossible task to assess all possible mixture combinations at all possible concentrations and conditions that are leading to the ubiquitous anthropogenic impacts on the aquatic environment resulting from deteriorating water quality. Therefore, ecotoxicology is moving more toward a mechanistic understanding of toxicological processes, using trait-based approaches and sublethal molecular and physiological endpoints to understand the mode of action of pollutants and the adverse outcomes at the organismal and population level. These molecular and physiological endpoints can be used as biomarkers, applicable in the field. This brings ecotoxicological research much closer to conservation physiology. Understanding the relationships between chemical reactivity in the water and in organisms, and assessing the consequences at higher levels, allows conservation physiologists and managers to take the right restoration measures for an optimal improvement of the aquatic habitats of concern. In this chapter we discuss the role which the promising approach of mechanistic-based Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs) can play in ecotoxicological research. It studies a pathway of events, from the direct interaction of a chemical with a molecular target, through subsequent intermediate events at cellular, tissue, organ and individual organism levels which then result in an Adverse Outcome (AO) relevant to ecotoxicological risk assessment and regulatory decision-making. In this context, we also discuss the importance of modeling, including bioavailability based and effect based models. Finally, we reflect on the possibilities that meta-analysis has to offer to detect unifying physiological processes, as well as interesting outliers.
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The impacts of wild capture fishing on animal welfare are poorly understood. During purse seine fishing for Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scrombrus), catches are crowded to high densities to facilitate pumping onboard. This study aimed to monitor fish welfare during crowding events in the Norwegian purse seine fishery, and to identify relevant drivers. We first correlated a suite of neuro-endocrine, physiological and physical stress responses (integrated into a single measure of welfare using multivariate analysis) to the behavioural vitality of individual mackerel in controlled crowding trials in aquaculture cages. Vitality was found to be a useful measure of welfare. We then assessed individual fish vitality onboard a commercial purse seiner. Catch welfare, measured using vitality, was observed to be negatively impacted during pumping related crowding. Larger catches and longer crowding exposure times resulted in greater negative impacts. Vitality was not significantly impacted by crowding density or dissolved oxygen concentrations inside the net, although methodological limitations limited accurate measurement of these parameters. Blood lactate levels correlated negatively with vitality, suggesting that high-intensity anaerobic locomotory activity was associated with the reduction in welfare. Based on these findings, catch welfare could be improved by targeting smaller schools to minimise crowding exposure times.
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Hypoxia negatively affects fish behavior, growth, physiological metabolism, and immune responses, or even death. Due to the high density of breeding, sudden power outages and hypoxia stresses have become a serious problem for the aquaculture of Takifugu rubripes. As fish gills are the first organ to be affected by hypoxia in the aquatic environment, the ability to sense and respond to hypoxic stress is crucial. At the molecular level, therefore, the regulation of gene expression in the gills is essential for hypoxia tolerance. Using an RNA-Seq approach in the Illumina sequencing platform, we investigated transcriptome modulation in the gills of T. rubripes , in response to chronic hypoxic stress (2.5 ± 0.5 mg/L for 10 days). Transcriptomic analysis showed that 143 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) (|log 2 foldchange| >=1 & p.adj < 0.05) were detected under chronic hypoxic exposure (84 up-regulated and 59 down-regulated genes). According to GO annotation, KEGG, and GSEA enrichment analysis, we found that chronic hypoxia can cause damage to animal tissues. However, the functional analysis also showed that T. rubripes can improve the ability to resist hypoxic stress by changing the expression of genes related to metabolic processes and O 2 extraction. Of particular interest was the activated immune-related pathways, including Cytokine-cytokine receptor interaction and CCR chemokine receptor binding, which play an essential role in the adaptation of T. rubripes to chronic hypoxic stress. Therefore, the regulated genes and pathways identified in this study enrich the molecular regulatory mechanism of T. rubripes in different hypoxic conditions, which is valuable for further studies regarding hypoxia tolerance in T. rubripes and other teleost fish, and pave the way for future research to understand the tissue-specific molecular responses to hypoxic stress.
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Hypoxia has become a world-wide phenomenon in the global coastal ocean and causes a deterioration of the structure and function of ecosystems. Based on the collective contributions of members of SCOR Working Group #128, the present study provides an overview of the major aspects of coastal hypoxia in different biogeochemical provinces, including estuaries, coastal waters, upwelling areas, fjords and semi-enclosed basins, with various external forcings, ecosystem responses, feedbacks and potential impact on the sustainability of the fishery and economics. The obvious external forcings include freshwater runoff and other factors contributing to stratification, organic matter and nutrient loadings, as well as exchange between coastal and open ocean water masses. Their different interactions set up mechanisms that drive the system towards hypoxia. Coastal systems also vary in their relative susceptibility to hypoxia depending on their physical and geographic settings. It is understood that coastal hypoxia has a profound impact on the sustainability of ecosystems, which can be seen, for example, by the change in the food-web structure and system function; other influences include compression and loss of habitat, as well as changes in organism life cycles and reproduction. In most cases, the ecosystem responds to the low dissolved oxygen in non-linear ways with pronounced feedbacks to other compartments of the Earth System, including those that affect human society. Our knowledge and previous experiences illustrate that there is a need to develop new observational tools and models to support integrated research of biogeochemical dynamics and ecosystem behavior that will improve confidence in remediation management strategies for coastal hypoxia.
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The problem of understanding the effect of the environment on fish activities and performance, in any generalized way, remains intractable. Solving this issue is, however, a key to addressing contemporary environmental concerns. As suggested 20 years ago by W. H. Neill, the authors returned to the drawing board, using as a background the conceptual scheme initially proposed by F. E. J. Fry. They revisited the effect of ambient oxygen availability upon fish metabolism and clarified the definitions of limiting, critical and incipient lethal oxygen (ILO) levels. The concepts of oxy-conformer and oxy-regulator are revisited, and P. W. Hochachka's idea of scope for survival is explored. Finally, how the cardiovascular system contributes to the capacity of fishes to respond to the reduced oxygen availability is considered. Various hands-on recommendations and software (R scripts) are provided for researchers interested in investigating these concepts.
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This review and data analysis outline how fish biologists should most reliably estimate the minimal amount of oxygen needed by a fish to support its aerobic metabolic rate (termed standard metabolic rate; SMR). By reviewing key literature, it explains the theory, terminology and challenges underlying SMR measurements in fishes, which are almost always made using respirometry (which measures oxygen uptake, ṀO2). Then, the practical difficulties of measuring SMR when activity of the fish is not quantitatively evaluated are comprehensively explored using 85 examples of ṀO2 data from different fishes and one crustacean, an analysis that goes well beyond any previous attempt. The main objective was to compare eight methods to estimate SMR. The methods were: average of the lowest 10 values (low10) and average of the 10% lowest ṀO2 values, after removing the five lowest ones as outliers (low10%), mean of the lowest normal distribution (MLND) and quantiles that assign from 10 to 30% of the data below SMR (q0·1, q0·15, q0·2, q0·25 and q0·3). The eight methods yielded significantly different SMR estimates, as expected. While the differences were small when the variability was low amongst the ṀO2 values, they were important (>20%) for several cases. The degree of agreement between the methods was related to the c.v. of the observations that were classified into the lowest normal distribution, the c.v. MLND (C.V.MLND). When this indicator was low (≤5·4), it was advantageous to use the MLND, otherwise, one of the q0·2 or q0·25 should be used. The second objective was to assess if the data recorded during the initial recovery period in the respirometer should be included or excluded, and the recommendation is to exclude them. The final objective was to determine the minimal duration of experiments aiming to estimate SMR. The results show that 12 h is insufficient but 24 h is adequate. A list of basic recommendations for practitioners who use respirometry to measure SMR in fishes is provided.
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This study compares the critical oxygen saturation (O2crit) levels of the shiner perch Cymatogaster aggregata obtained using two different methods wherein hypoxia is induced either by the fish's respiration (closed respirometry) or by degassing oxygen with nitrogen (intermittent-flow respirometry). Fish exhibited loss of equilibrium at a higher O2 saturation in the closed respirometry method when compared with the intermittent-flow method. Utilization of closed respirometry yielded O2crit measurements that were almost twice as high as those obtained with intermittent-flow respirometry. The lower hypoxia tolerance in closed respirometry is consistent with additional stress, caused by a build-up of ammonia and carbon dioxide and a faster rate in dissolved oxygen decline. The results indicate that these two methods of determining hypoxia tolerance in aquatic organisms are not comparable, and that much care should be given to method choice.