Chemical niches and ionoregulatory traits: Applying ionoregulatory physiology to the conservation management of freshwater fishes

Alex M. Zimmer, Greg G. Goss, Chris N. Glover

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Alterations in water chemistry can challenge resident fish species. More specifically, chemical changes that disrupt ion balance will negatively affect fish health and impact physiological and ecological performance. However, our understanding of which species and populations are at risk from ionoregulatory disturbances in response to changing freshwater environments is currently unclear. Therefore, we propose a novel framework for incorporating ionoregulatory physiology into conservation management of inland fishes. This framework introduces the concepts of fundamental chemical niche, which is the tolerable range of chemical conditions for a given species based on laboratory experiments, and realized chemical niche, which is the range of chemical conditions in which a species resides based on distribution surveys. By comparing these two niches, populations that may be at risk from ionoregulatory disturbances and thus require additional conservation considerations can be identified. We highlight the potential for commonly measured ionoregulatory traits to predict fundamental and realized chemical niches but caution that some traits may not serve as accurate predictors despite being important for understanding ionoregulatory mechanisms. As a sample application of our framework, the minimum pH distribution (realized niche) and survival limit pH (fundamental niche) of several North American fishes were determined by systematic review and were compared. We demonstrate that ionoregulatory capacity is significantly correlated with a realized niche for many species, highlighting the influence of ionoregulatory physiology on fish distribution patterns along chemical gradients. Our aim is that this framework will stimulate further research in this field and result in a broader integration of physiological data into conservation management decisions for inland waters.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA1372
JournalConservation Physiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Acid
  • Calcium
  • Salinity
  • Sodium


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