The metabolic index concept combines metabolic data and known thermal sensitivities to estimate the factorial aerobic scope of animals in different habitats, which is valuable for understanding the metabolic demands that constrain species' geographical distributions. An important assumption of this concept is that the O2 supply capacity (which is equivalent to the rate of oxygen consumption divided by the environmental partial pressure of oxygen: ) is constant at O2 tensions above the critical O2 threshold (i.e. the where O2 uptake can no longer meet metabolic demand). This has led to the notion that hypoxia vulnerability is not a selected trait, but a by-product of selection on maximum metabolic rate. In this Commentary, we explore whether this fundamental assumption is supported among fishes. We provide evidence that O2 supply capacity is not constant in all fishes, with some species exhibiting an elevated O2 supply capacity in hypoxic environments. We further discuss the divergent selective pressures on hypoxia- and exercise-based cardiorespiratory adaptations in fishes, while also considering the implications of a hypoxia-optimized O2 supply capacity for the metabolic index concept.

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