Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Physiology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Physiological responses of Daphnia pulex to acid stress

Anna K Weber and Ralph Pirow*

Author affiliations

Institute of Zoophysiology, University of Münster, Münster, Germany

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Physiology 2009, 9:9  doi:10.1186/1472-6793-9-9

Published: 21 April 2009



Acidity exerts a determining influence on the composition and diversity of freshwater faunas. While the physiological implications of freshwater acidification have been intensively studied in teleost fish and crayfish, much less is known about the acid-stress physiology of ecologically important groups such as cladoceran zooplankton. This study analyzed the extracellular acid-base state and CO2 partial pressure (PCO2), circulation and ventilation, as well as the respiration rate of Daphnia pulex acclimated to acidic (pH 5.5 and 6.0) and circumneutral (pH 7.8) conditions.


D. pulex had a remarkably high extracellular pH of 8.33 and extracellular PCO2 of 0.56 kPa under normal ambient conditions (pH 7.8 and normocapnia). The hemolymph had a high bicarbonate concentration of 20.9 mM and a total buffer value of 51.5 meq L-1 pH-1. Bicarbonate covered 93% of the total buffer value. Acidic conditions induced a slight acidosis (ΔpH = 0.16–0.23), a 30–65% bicarbonate loss, and elevated systemic activities (tachycardia, hyperventilation, hypermetabolism). pH 6.0 animals partly compensated the bicarbonate loss by increasing the non-bicarbonate buffer value from 2.0 to 5.1 meq L-1 pH-1. The extracellular PCO2 of pH 5.5 animals was significantly reduced to 0.33 kPa, and these animals showed the highest tolerance to a short-term exposure to severe acid stress.


Chronic exposure to acidic conditions had a pervasive impact on Daphnia's physiology including acid-base balance, extracellular PCO2, circulation and ventilation, and energy metabolism. Compensatory changes in extracellular non-bicarbonate buffering capacity and the improved tolerance to severe acid stress indicated the activation of defense mechanisms which may result from gene-expression mediated adjustments in hemolymph buffer proteins and in epithelial properties. Mechanistic analyses of the interdependence between extracellular acid-base balance and CO2 transport raised the question of whether a carbonic anhydrase (CA) is involved in the catalysis of the reaction, which led to the discovery of 31 CA-genes in the genome of D. pulex.