The Role of Size in Synchronous Air Breathing of Hoplosternum littorale
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Synchronized air breathing may have evolved as a way of minimizing the predation risk known to be associated with air breathing in fish. Little is known about how the size of individuals affects synchronized air breathing and whether some individuals are required to surface earlier than necessary in support of conspecifics, while others delay air intake. Here, the air-breathing behavior of Hoplosternum littorale held in groups or in isolation was investigated in relation to body mass, oxygen tensions, and a variety of other physiological parameters (plasma lactate, hepatic glycogen, hematocrit, hemoglobin, and size of heart, branchial basket, liver, and air-breathing organ [ABO]). A mass-specific relationship with oxygen tension of first surfacing was seen when fish were held in isolation; smaller individuals surfaced at higher oxygen tensions. However, this relationship was lost when the same individuals were held in social groups of four, where synchronous air breathing was observed. In isolation, 62% of fish first surfaced at an oxygen tension lower than the calculated P(crit) (8.13 kPa), but in the group environment this was reduced to 38% of individuals. Higher oxygen tensions at first surfacing in the group environment were related to higher levels of activity rather than any of the physiological parameters measured. In fish held in isolation but denied access to the water surface for 12 h before behavioral testing, there was no mass-specific relationship with oxygen tension at first surfacing. Larger individuals with a greater capacity to store air in their ABOs may, therefore, remain in hypoxic waters for longer periods than smaller individuals when held in isolation unless prior access to the air is prevented. This study highlights how social interaction can affect air-breathing behaviors and the importance of considering both behavioral and physiological responses of fish to hypoxia to understand the survival mechanisms they employ.
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