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Keywords:

  • gill ventilation;
  • heart rate;
  • oxygen extraction;
  • stopflow respirometry

To quantify the tolerance of summer flounder Paralichthys dentatus to episodic hypoxia, resting metabolic rate, oxygen extraction, gill ventilation and heart rate were measured during acute progressive hypoxia at the fish's acclimation temperature (22° C) and after an acute temperature increase (to 30° C). Mean ±s.e. critical oxygen levels (i.e. the oxygen levels below which fish could not maintain aerobic metabolism) increased significantly from 27 ± 2% saturation (2·0 ± 0·1 mg O2 l−1) at 22° C to 39 ± 2% saturation (2·4 ± 0·1 mg O2 l−1) at 30° C. Gill ventilation and oxygen extraction changed immediately with the onset of hypoxia at both temperatures. The fractional increase in gill ventilation (from normoxia to the lowest oxygen level tested) was much larger at 22° C (6·4-fold) than at 30° C (2·7-fold). In contrast, the fractional decrease in oxygen extraction (from normoxia to the lowest oxygen levels tested) was similar at 22° C (1·7-fold) and 30° C (1·5-fold), and clearly smaller than the fractional changes in gill ventilation. In contrast to the almost immediate effects of hypoxia on respiration, bradycardia was not observed until 20 and 30% oxygen saturation at 22 and 30° C, respectively. Bradycardia was, therefore, not observed until below critical oxygen levels. The critical oxygen levels at both temperatures were near or immediately below the accepted 2·3 mg O2 l−1hypoxia threshold for survival, but the increase in the critical oxygen level at 30° C suggests a lower tolerance to hypoxia after an acute increase in temperature.