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Hypoxia tolerance of the mummichog: the role of access to the water surface

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Low dissolved oxygen (DO) had a significant effect on specific growth rate (GS), length increment (IL) and haematocrit (Hct) of the mummichog Fundulus heteroclitus. Regardless of access to the water surface, F. heteroclitus maintained high growth rates (GS and IL) at DO concentrations as low as 3 mg O2 l−1. With access to the water surface, both GS and IL of F. heteroclitus decreased by c. 60% at 1ยท0 mg O2 l−1 compared to all higher DO treatments. When denied access to the water surface, a further decrease in GS (c. 90%) and IL (c. 75%) was observed at 1 mg O2 l−1. There was no effect of diel-cycling DO (1–11 mg O2 l−1) with or without surface access on GS, IL or Hct of F. heteroclitus. Similar trends between GS and faecal production across DO treatments suggest that decreased feeding contributed significantly to the observed decrease in growth rate. Haematocrit was significantly elevated at 1 mg O2 l−1 for fish with and without access to the water surface. Increased Hct, however, was not sufficient to maintain high GS or IL at severely low DO. When permitted to respire in the surface layer, however, F. heteroclitus was capable of maintaining moderate growth rates at DO concentrations of 1 mg O2 l−1 (c. 15% saturation). Although aquatic surface respiration (ASR) was not quantified in this study, F. heteroclitus routinely swam in contact with the water surface and performed ASR at DO concentrations ≤3 mg O2 l−1. No hypoxia-related mortality was observed in any DO or surface access treatment for as long as 9 days. This study demonstrates that surface access, and thus potential for ASR, plays an important role in providing F. heteroclitus substantial independence of growth rate over a wide range of low DO conditions commonly encountered in shallow estuarine environments.
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Keywords: Fundulus heteroclitus; aquatic surface respiration; dissolved oxygen; feeding rate; growth; haematocrit

Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: University of Delaware, Graduate College of Marine Studies, Lewes, DE 19958,U.S.A. and 2: Salisbury University, Department of Biological Sciences, Salisbury, MD 21801, U.S.A.

Publication date: 2003-09-01

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