ABSTRACT

Animals inhabiting the intertidal zone are exposed to abrupt changes in environmental conditions associated with the rise and fall of the tide. For convenience, the majority of laboratory studies on intertidal organisms have acclimated individuals to permanently submerged conditions in seawater tanks. In this study, green shore crabs, Carcinus maenas, were acclimated to either a simulated tidal regime of continuous emersion–immersion (‘tidal’) or to permanently submerged conditions (‘non-tidal’) to assess their physiological responses to subsequent emersion. Tidal crabs exhibited an endogenous rhythm of oxygen consumption during continuous submersion with lower oxygen consumption during periods of anticipated emersion, which was not detected in non-tidal crabs. During emersion, tidal crabs were able to buffer apparent changes in acid–base balance and exhibited no change in venous pH, whereas non-tidal crabs developed an acidosis associated with a rise in lactate levels. These results indicate that tidal crabs were better able to sustain aerobic metabolism and had lower metabolic costs during emersion than non-tidal crabs. It is likely that the elevated levels of haemocyanin exhibited by tidal crabs allowed them to maintain oxygen transport and buffer pH changes during emersion. This suggests that acclimation of C. maenas to submerged conditions results in a loss of important physiological mechanisms that enable it to tolerate emersion. The results of this study show that caution must be taken when acclimating intertidal organisms to submerged conditions in the laboratory, as it may abolish important physiological responses and adaptations that are critical to their performance when exposed to air.

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