Theme and variations: amphibious air-breathing intertidal fishes

Authors


Abstract

Over 70 species of intertidal fishes from 12 families breathe air while emerging from water. Amphibious intertidal fishes generally have no specialized air-breathing organ but rely on vascularized mucosae and cutaneous surfaces in air to exchange both oxygen and carbon dioxide. They differ from air-breathing freshwater fishes in morphology, physiology, ecology and behaviour. Air breathing and terrestrial activity are present to varying degrees in intertidal fish species, correlated with the tidal height of their habitat. The gradient of amphibious lifestyle includes passive remainers that stay in the intertidal zone as tides ebb, active emergers that deliberately leave water in response to poor aquatic conditions and highly mobile amphibious skipper fishes that may spend more time out of water than in it. Normal terrestrial activity is usually aerobic and metabolic rates in air and water are similar. Anaerobic metabolism may be employed during forced exercise or when exposed to aquatic hypoxia. Adaptations for amphibious life include reductions in gill surface area, increased reliance on the skin for respiration and ion exchange, high affinity of haemoglobin for oxygen and adjustments to ventilation and metabolism while in air. Intertidal fishes remain close to water and do not travel far terrestrially, and are unlikely to migrate or colonize new habitats at present, although in the past this may have happened. Many fish species spawn in the intertidal zone, including some that do not breathe air, as eggs and embryos that develop in the intertidal zone benefit from tidal air emergence. With air breathing, amphibious intertidal fishes survive in a variable habitat with minimal adjustments to existing structures. Closely related species in different microhabitats provide unique opportunities for comparative studies.

Ancillary