The effects of constant and fluctuating elevated pCO2 levels on oxygen uptake rates of coral reef fishes


• Coral reefs exhibit natural, diel pCO2 fluctuations that are expected to increase.

• Few studies have examined effects of fluctuating pCO2 on adult coral reef fishes.

• We measured swimming, O2 uptake rates, aerobic scope, and various blood parameters.

• Performing under fluctuating pCO2 conditions may be less energetically-costly.

• Studies should use ecologically-relevant CO2 when predicting climate change impacts.


Ocean acidification, resulting from increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, can affect the physiological performance of some fishes. Most studies investigating ocean acidification have used stable pCO2 treatments based on open ocean predictions. However, nearshore systems can experience substantial spatial and temporal variations in pCO2. Notably, coral reefs are known to experience diel fluctuations in pCO2, which are expected to increase on average and in magnitude in the future. Though we know these variations exist, relatively few studies have included fluctuating treatments when examining the effects of ocean acidification conditions on coral reef species. To address this, we exposed two species of damselfishes, Amblyglyphidodon curacao and Acanthochromis polyacanthus, to ambient pCO2, a stable elevated pCO2 treatment, and two fluctuating pCO2 treatments (increasing and decreasing) over an 8 h period. Oxygen uptake rates were measured both while fish were swimming and resting at low-speed. These 8 h periods were followed by an exhaustive swimming test (Ucrit) and blood draw examining swimming metrics and haematological parameters contributing to oxygen transport. When A. polyacanthus were exposed to stable pCO2 conditions (ambient or elevated), they required more energy during the 8 h trial regardless of swimming type than fish exposed to either of the fluctuating pCO2 treatments (increasing or decreasing). These results were reflected in the oxygen uptake rates during the Ucrit tests, where fish exposed to fluctuating pCO2 treatments had a higher factorial aerobic scope than fish exposed to stable pCO2 treatments. By contrast, A. curacao showed no effect of pCO2 treatment on swimming or oxygen uptake metrics. Our results show that responses to stable versus fluctuating pCO2 differ between species – what is stressful for one species many not be stressful for another. Such asymmetries may have population- and community-level impacts under higher more variable pCO2 conditions in the future.

Hannan K. D., Munday P. L. & Rummer J. L., in press. The effects of constant and fluctuating elevated pCO2 levels on oxygen uptake rates of coral reef fishes. Science of The Total EnvironmentArticle (subscription required).

This article appeared on the Ocean Acidification website at https://news-oceanacidification-icc.org/2020/06/25/the-effects-of-constant-and-fluctuating-elevated-pco2-levels-on-oxygen-uptake-rates-of-coral-reef-fishes/


Subscribe to Our Informative Weekly Newsletter Here:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.