Interspecific and environment-induced variation in hypoxia tolerance in sunfish Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Hypoxia tolerance is a plastic trait, and can vary between species. We compared hypoxia tolerance (hypoxic loss of equilibrium, LOE, and critical O2 tension, Pcrit) and traits that dictate O2 transport and metabolism in pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), bluegill (L. macrochirus), and the naturally occurring hybrid in different acclimation environments (wild versus lab-acclimated fish) and at different temperatures. Wild fish generally had lower Pcrit and lower PO2 at LOE in progressive hypoxia than lab-acclimated fish, but time to LOE in sustained hypoxia (PO2 of 2kPa) did not vary between environments. Wild fish also had greater gill surface area and higher haematocrit, suggesting that increased O2 transport capacity underlies the environmental variation in Pcrit. Metabolic (lactate dehydrogenase, LDH; pyruvate kinase, PK; citrate synthase; cytochrome c oxidase) and antioxidant (catalase and superoxide dismutase) enzyme activities varied appreciably between environments. Wild fish had higher protein contents across tissues and higher activities of LDH in heart, PK in brain, and catalase in brain, liver, and skeletal muscle. Otherwise, wild fish had lower activities for most enzymes. Warming temperature from 15 to 25°C increased O2 consumption rate, Pcrit, PO2 at LOE, and haemoglobin-O2 affinity, and decreased time to LOE, but pumpkinseed had ≥2-fold longer time to LOE than bluegill and hybrids across this temperature range. This was associated with higher LDH activities in the heart and muscle, and lower or similar antioxidant enzyme activities in several tissues. However, the greater hypoxia tolerance of pumpkinseed collapsed at 28°C, demonstrating that the interactive effects of hypoxia and warming temperature can differ between species. Overall, distinct mechanisms appear to underpin interspecific and environment-induced variation in hypoxia tolerance in sunfish.


  • Borowiec, Brittney G
  • Crans, Kyle D
  • Khajali, Fariborz
  • Pranckevicius, Nicole A
  • Young, Alexander
  • Scott, Graham

publication date

  • August 2016