Strategies of inanga (Galaxias maculatus) for surviving the environmental stressors of hypoxia and salinity change
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Salinity and oxygen availability have long been recognised as important factors influencing animal physiology and therefore species distribution. The maintenance of appropriate cellular ion levels is critical for many essential physiological processes, but at the same time is energetically expensive. Since hypoxia is likely to impose aerobic limitations for ATP generation, the maintenance of salt and water homeostasis could be at risk during hypoxia. The amphidromous inanga (Galaxias maculatus) is well known for its salinity tolerance and its life cycle that involves several salinity related migrations. During these migrations inanga also frequently encounters hypoxic waters, and therefore must maintain energy homeostasis when aerobic metabolism may be compromised. The present study has investigated behavioural, physiological, biochemical and molecular mechanisms by which inanga tolerate changes in salinity and hypoxia.
After 14 days of acclimation to salinities ranging from freshwater to 43‰, inanga showed physiological acclimation. This was evident by no changes in metabolic rates or energy expenditures through this salinity range. Energy balance seemed to be tightly and efficiently controlled by changes in the proportion of protein and lipids used as energy substrate. No mortalities and only minor changes in plasma osmolality also indicated salinity acclimation. The remarkable osmoregulatory capacity of inanga was also evidenced after a seawater challenge. The osmotic balance of inanga was only disrupted during the first 24 hours after the challenge, evidenced by an increase in plasma osmolality and plasma Na+, and a decrease in muscle water content.
These physiological changes were correlated with changes at the molecular level. Different isoforms of the catalytic subunit of the Na+,K+-ATPase (NKA) were isolated, partially sequenced and identified in inanga. Phylogenetic analysis grouped inanga isoforms (α-1a, α-1b, α-1c) with their respective homologues from salmonids. Patterns of mRNA expression were also similar to salmonids, with α-1a being downregulated and α-1b being up-regulated following seawater challenge. Previous to this study, NKA isoform switching was reported to occur only in salmonids and cichlids. The presence of NKA subunits that change with environmnetal salinity in inanga indicates that this isoform switching phenomenon is much more widespread among teleost lineages than previously thought.
Aiming to elucidate the hypoxia tolerance of inanga, oxygen consumption rate as a function of decreasing external PO2 was evaluated. At no point did inanga regulate oxygen consumption, suggesting that this species is an oxyconformer. This is the first robust demonstration of the existence of oxyconforming in fish. Evaluation of the scaling relationship between oxygen consumption and fish size in normoxia, showed that the exponent of this relationship fell within the range previously reported for fish. However, in hypoxic conditions the scaling relationship was less clear suggesting different size-related mechanisms for tolerating hypoxia. Analysis of the aerobic and anaerobic metabolism of small and large fish, showed that smaller inanga were able to sustain aerobic metabolism for longer than larger inanga, which instead relied on anaerobic metabolism for extending their survival. This knowledge is likely to be of value for the conservation of this iconic fish species, by incorporating these size related differences in hypoxia tolerance in streams management.
In light of the unusual oxyconforming response of inanga, a study examining the behavioural responses of this species to declining dissolved oxygen was performed. Inanga did not display a behaviour that might reduce energy expenditure during oxygen limitation; instead swimming activity and speed were elevated relative to normoxia. As hypoxia deepened inanga leaped out of the water, emersing themselves on a floating platform. Once emersed, fish exhibited an enhanced oxygen consumption rate compared to fish that remained in hypoxic water. Although this emersion behaviour was hypothesised to be of physiological advantage, both aquatic hypoxia and emersion resulted in similar physiological and biochemical consequences in inanga. While in hypoxic water oxygen availability seemed to be the limiting factor, in air failure of the circulatory system was hypothesised to be the cause of a similar metabolic signature to that found in aquatic hypoxia.
Overall, inanga seemed to be not particularly well adapted to tolerate aquatic hypoxia. In light of the increasing likelihood of anthropogenic-induced hypoxia in inanga habitats, this is likely to have negative consequences for the future of inanga populations in the wild. Although this study provides the mechanisms behind the exceptional salinity tolerance of inanga, its susceptibility to hypoxia is likely to impose further constraints for the osmoregulatory processes that guarantee inanga survival during life cycle migrations. The results of the present study are relevant for understanding and managing the fishery of this economically- and culturally important fish species.