The objective of this study was to determine whether differences in exercise physiology between Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) populations from different salinity environments could be changed by acclimating individuals of each population to the natural salinity of the comparison population. The exercise-associated blood chemistry of cod from the brackish Bras d'Or lakes, which had previously been shown to be quite different from that of 'open-ocean' cod, changed to resemble the blood chemistry of their oceanic relatives after only 2 months of acclimation to full-strength salinity. In contrast, the blood chemistry of cod from the Scotian Shelf of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean showed little change after 2 months of acclimation to brackish water. These results demonstrate that the degree of osmoconformity to changes in environmental salinity is a population-specific not a species-specific trait. The blood chemistry differences between populations and salinities did not translate into differences in exercise performance: i.e. critical swimming speeds were statistically uniform across all combinations of population and salinity, although performance was more varied in fish swimming in 'non-native' waters. Other 'whole-animal' physiological characteristics, such as metabolic rate and the aerobic cost of transport, were dependent upon both population origin and the environmental salinity. Vigorous swimming was more energetically expensive at full-strength salinity than at 20 salinity, yet estimates of standard (i.e. resting) metabolic rate were lower for full-strength salinity. Environmental salinity also influenced the relative appearance of lactate and metabolic acid in the extracellular fluid compartment, with full-strength salinity favouring the relative appearance of lactate in the blood. Multivariate statistical analyses of this data set showed that, in contrast to other fish species and studies, differences in blood oxygen transport appear to account for some of the swimming performance differences seen in Atlantic cod at 2 °C. The two experimental populations were cleanly separated by a principal components analysis, regardless of the salinity to which they were acclimated, confirming our earlier contention that these cod populations are physiologically distinct. A key feature of that distinctness is the greater phenotypic plasticity exhibited by the population from the more euryhaline, more eurythermal environment.

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