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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2011 Jul-Aug;84(4):353-62. doi: 10.1086/660191.

Thermal tolerance of Antarctic notothenioid fishes correlates with level of circulating hemoglobin.

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School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469, USA.


The West Antarctic Peninsula region is experiencing some of the most rapid elevations in temperature of any marine environment. We assessed thermal tolerance of white- and red-blooded Antarctic notothenioid fishes inhabiting these waters, using a modified critical thermal maximum (CT(max)) design. Temperature was elevated acutely from ambient at a constant rate of 3.6°C h(-1), and CT(max) was defined as the temperature where animals lost righting response. CT(max) temperatures of white-blooded icefishes Chionodraco rastrospinosus (13.3° ± 0.2°C) and Chaenocephalus aceratus (13.9° ± 0.4°C) were significantly lower than those of red-blooded fishes Gobionotothen gibberifrons (15.5° ± 0.2°C) and Notothenia coriiceps (17.1° ± 0.2°C). Lepidonotothen squamifrons, a red-blooded species with low hematocrit, exhibited a CT(max) (14.2° ± 0.4°C) that was significantly lower than that of the other red-blooded animals and similar to that of icefishes. A strong relationship between CT(max) and hematocrit (r(2) = 0.76) suggests that the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood may partially dictate acute lethal temperature. Despite a short treatment duration, we detected a rise in the mRNA level of hypoxia response gene HIF-1α in N. coriiceps heart tissue. One-week exposure to 4°C had no effect on the CT(max) of N. coriiceps, indicating an inability to compensate for rising temperature under these experimental conditions. Our results suggest that icefishes are particularly sensitive to temperature elevation because of a lack of hemoglobin and may be a sentinel taxon for climate change.

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