Exposure to nitrate increases susceptibility to hypoxia in fish

Date: 02, Feb, 2021
Author(s):   Gomez Isaza, D.F., Cramp, R.L., Franklin, C.E.
Publisher: Physiological and Biochemical Zoology

Aquatic hypoxic events are increasing in frequency and intensity as concentrations of nutrients, such as nitrate, continue to rise from human activities. Many fish species can alter their behavior and physiology to cope with drops in oxygen, but these compensatory strategies may be compromised under high levels of nitrate pollution. Hence, we investigated whether exposure to elevated nitrate concentrations affects key behavioral (avoidance and aquatic surface respiration [ASR]) and physiological (hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, ventilation frequency, and burst and prolonged swimming performance) responses of fish to mitigate the impacts of acute hypoxia. Juvenile silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) were exposed to one of three nitrate concentrations (0, 50, or 100 mg NO3 L−1) for 3 wk, after which behavioral and physiological responses of fish to progressive hypoxia were assessed. Fish exposed to nitrate utilized ASR at a higher threshold of partial pressure of oxygen during progressive hypoxia compared with control animals but did not alter behavioral avoidance of low oxygen levels. In these nitrate-exposed fish, the early onset of ASR behaviors is likely a behavioral, compensatory strategy to cope with nitrate-induced physiological disruptions, namely, increases in ventilation frequency and lower levels of hemoglobin and hematocrit. The physiological constraints placed by nitrate and acute hypoxia exposures manifested to lower the swimming performance of silver perch. Collectively, these data suggest that exposure to elevated nitrate is likely to disrupt key behavioral and physiological strategies used by fish to cope with short-term hypoxia.