Effects of hypoxia on swimming and sensing in a weakly electric fish [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Kerri Lynn Ackerly, Rüdiger Krahe, Christopher P. Sanford, and Lauren J. Chapman

Low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) can severely limit fish performance, especially aerobically expensive behaviours including swimming and acquisition of sensory information. Fishes can reduce oxygen requirements by altering these behaviours under hypoxia, but the underlying mechanisms can be difficult to quantify. We used a weakly electric fish as a model system to explore potential effects of hypoxia on swim performance and sensory information acquisition, which enabled us to non-invasively record electric signalling activity used for active acquisition of sensory information during swimming. To quantify potential effects of hypoxia, we measured critical swim speed (Ucrit) and concurrent electric signalling activity under high- and low-dissolved oxygen concentrations in a hypoxia-tolerant African mormyrid fish, Marcusenius victoriae. Fish were maintained under normoxia for 6 months prior to experimental treatments, and then acclimated for 8 weeks to normoxia or hypoxia and tested under both conditions (acute: 4 h exposure). Acute hypoxia exposure resulted in a significant reduction in both Ucrit and electric signalling activity in fish not acclimated to hypoxia. However, individuals acclimated to chronic hypoxia were characterized by a higher Ucrit under both hypoxia and normoxia than fish acclimated to normoxia. Following a 6 month re-introduction to normoxia, hypoxia-acclimated individuals still showed increased performance under acute hypoxic test conditions, but not under normoxia. Our results highlight the detrimental effects of hypoxia on aerobic swim performance and sensory information acquisition, and the ability of fish to heighten aerobic performance through acclimation processes that can still influence performance even months after initial exposure.

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