Tribute to R. G. Boutilier: The effect of size on the physiological and behavioural responses of oscar, Astronotus ocellatus, to hypoxia
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The physiological and behavioural responses of two size groups of oscar (Astronotus ocellatus) to hypoxia were studied. The physiological responses were tested by measuring M(O(2)) during decreasing environmental oxygen tensions. Larger oscars were better able to maintain oxygen consumption during a decrease in P(O(2)), regulating routine M(O(2)) to a significantly lower P(O(2)) threshold (50 mmHg) than smaller oscars (70 mmHg). Previous studies have also demonstrated a longer survival time of large oscars exposed to extreme hypoxia, coupled with a greater anaerobic enzymatic capability. Large oscars began aquatic surface respiration (ASR) at the oxygen tension at which the first significant decrease in M(O(2)) was seen (50 mmHg). Interestingly, smaller oscars postponed ASR to around 22 mmHg, well beyond the P(O(2)) at which they switched from oxyregulation to oxyconformation. Additionally, when given the choice between an hypoxic environment containing aquatic macrophyte shelter and an open normoxic environment, small fish showed a greater preference for the hypoxic environment. Thus shelter from predators appears particularly important for juveniles, who may accept a greater physiological compromise in exchange for safety. In response to hypoxia without available shelter, larger fish reduced their level of activity (with the exception of aggressive encounters) to aid metabolic suppression whereas smaller oscars increased their activity, with the potential benefit of finding oxygen-rich areas.
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