The critical swimming velocity of fish is affected by environmental conditions and the highest swimming speed is obtained only under specific circumstances. The mechanisms causing a reduction in exercise capacity depend on the type of environmental change. Acid waters exert an effect by reducing oxygen transport capacity, whereas reduced temperatures act largely on muscle contractility. Alkaline conditions and salinity change may affect both gas transport and muscle contractility.

A fish must operate over a wide range of internal and external conditions and must possess both short- and long-term mechanisms to maintain function under a wide variety of conditions. These mechanisms may be part of the immediate reflex arsenal available to the fish (for example, catecholamine release) or they may be mechanisms induced during acclimation. The nature of the acclimation process is an indication of what may be limiting exercise under a particular set of circumstances.

The concept of symmorphosis, especially when applied to ectotherms, needs to be viewed in a broader context. A symmetry of component parts may exist such that structures are designed to satisfy functional requirements for operation over a wide range of conditions, rather than optimally for a given set of conditions. This must involve compromises in design, especially for ectotherms such as fish. Thus, the more variable the conditions under which a system must operate, the less apparent it will be that symmorphosis exists between the component parts.

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