Specimens of Bufo marinus were exposed to aerial and aquatic hypercapnia (5% CO2) in a closed, water recirculation system to evaluate mechanisms involved in the compensation of a respiratory acidosis in these animals. Arterial PCO2 was elevated from about 9 mmHg (1 mmHg = 133.3 Pa) to 35 (1 h) and 37 mmHg (2 h), and gradually approached about 40 mmHg (24 h of hypercapnia). The typical hypercapnia-induced reduction in plasma pH from about 7.9 to below 7.4 was partially offset, at least during the first hours of hypercapnia, by a reduction in the inspired/arterial PCO2 difference, presumably brought about by pulmonary hyperventilation. The predominant contributor to extracellular pH compensation, however, was a net gain of bicarbonate from the environment, mainly facilitated by ammonia excretion. Bicarbonate originating from the environment was accumulated in the body fluids, increasing the plasma concentration from the control of about 9 to 36 mmol l-1 after 24 h. Extracellular pH was compensated to only about 30% of the shift expected at constant bicarbonate level and, according to the steady reduction of pH, non-bicarbonate buffering of CO2 also contributed significantly to the elevation of bicarbonate. This relatively poor pH compensation (compared with fishes) could not be improved either by direct administration of bicarbonate into the bloodstream or by increased environmental ion concentrations. It is concluded that the availability of bicarbonate is not a limiting factor for pH compensation during hypercapnia, and that the inability of Bufo to accumulate bicarbonate to concentrations sufficient for better hypercapnia compensation is based on a constitutional ‘bicarbonate threshold’ of the resorbing and retaining structures for acid-base-relevant ions.

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