Specimens of Conger conger (L.) were exposed to environmental hypercapnia in a closed recirculating seawater system. Arterial plasma pH, PCO2 and bicarbonate concentration, as well as the net transfer of bicarbonate and ammonia between fish and ambient seawater, were monitored for 30 h of hypercapnia. The initial hypercapnia-induced reduction of arterial pH by about 0.4 pH units was restored to near control values within 10 h of hypercapnia by compensatory elevation of plasma bicarbonate concentration. The continuous rise in extracellular bicarbonate from about 5 to 22 mM during this time was the result of two different mechanisms. Initially, there was a net bicarbonate transfer from the intracellular space to the extracellular compartment until the net uptake of bicarbonate from the seawater started. The amount of bicarbonate originally transferred to the extracellular space was then returned to the intracellular compartment and finally the changes in both extracellular and intracellular pH were compensated by bicarbonate taken up from the environmental seawater. Since the ammonia excretion was not increased during hypercapnia and the pattern of plasma electrolyte concentrations does not favour the H+/Na+ ion exchange mechanism, it is concluded that the additional bicarbonate is gained by active HCO3-/Cl- ion exchange against the electrochemical gradient between fish and seawater.

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