The cost of living for freshwater fish in a warmer, more polluted world


and present address: Chris M. Wood, fax + 001 905 522 6066, e-mail


Little of the vast literature on the temperature physiology of freshwater fish is useful in predicting the effects of global warming. In the present review a series of laboratory experiments is reviewed in which rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) were exposed to simulated global warming, a 2 °C increment superimposed upon the natural thermal regime, in the presence and absence of two common freshwater pollutants, ammonia and acidity (low pH). Simulated global warming had little effect on the growth and physiology of trout fed to satiation over much of the summer. However, in late summer, when ambient water temperature was at its highest, the addition of 2 °C caused a marked inhibition of appetite and growth, although this impact was not exacerbated by a reduction in food availability. In winter, + 2 °C stimulated metabolism, appetite and growth by approximately 30–60%.

Exposure of satiation-fed trout to low levels of pollutants produced unexpected results. Ammonia (NH3 + NH4+ = 70 μm) stimulated summer growth and energy conversion efficiency, whilst acidification (pH 5.2) increased appetite and growth but caused no disturbance of electrolyte balance. These pollutant effects were additive upon, but not synergistic with, the effects of + 2 °C. The ability of the fish to acclimate to the experimental conditions was tested with acute lethal temperature and/or toxicant challenges. Fish exposed to + 2 °C had a slightly (0.2–1.0 °C) but significantly higher lethal temperature than those exposed to ambient temperature when fed to satiation. However, there was no evidence of acclimation to either ammonia or low pH. It is concluded that the impact of global warming on freshwater fish will vary seasonally. The additional temperature may provide growth benefits in winter, but may threaten fish populations living towards the upper end of their thermal tolerance zone in (late) summer.