Sex differences in circulatory oxygen transport parameters of sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) on the spawning ground

J Comp Physiol B. 2009 Jul;179(5):663-71. doi: 10.1007/s00360-009-0349-1. Epub 2009 Feb 28.


Upon reaching sexual maturity, several species of male salmonids possess a relative ventricular mass (rM(V)) that may be up to 90% larger than females. This can increase maximum cardiac stroke volume and power output, which may be beneficial to increasing the oxygen transport capacity of male salmonids during the spawning period. It may be further hypothesized, therefore, that other variables within the circulatory oxygen transport cascade, such as blood oxygen-carrying capacity and heart rate, are similarly enhanced in reproductively mature male salmonids. To test this idea, the present study measured a range of circulatory oxygen transport variables in wild male and female sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) during their spawning period, following a 150 km migration from the ocean. The rM(V) of male fish was 13% greater than females. Conversely, the haemoglobin concentration ([Hb]) of female fish was 19% higher than males, indicative of a greater blood oxygen-carrying capacity (138 vs. 116 ml O2 l(-1), respectively). Surgically implanted physiological data loggers revealed a similar range in heart rate for both sexes on the spawning ground (20-80 beats min(-1) at 10 degrees C), with a tendency for male fish to spend a greater percentage of time (64%) than females (49%) at heart rates above 50 beats min(-1). Male fish on average consumed significantly more oxygen than females during a 13-h respirometry period. However, routine oxygen consumption rates (.)MO2 ranged between 1.5 and 8.5 mg min(-1) kg(-1) for both sexes, which implies that males did not inherently possess markedly higher routine aerobic energy demands, and suggests that the higher [Hb] of female fish may compensate for the smaller rM(V). These findings reject the hypothesis that all aspects of the circulatory oxygen transport cascade are inherently superior in male sockeye salmon. Instead, it is suggested that any differences in (.)MO2 between sexually mature male and female sockeye salmon can likely be attributed to activity levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration / physiology
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Heart Ventricles / anatomy & histology
  • Hematocrit / veterinary
  • Hemoglobins / metabolism
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Salmon / blood
  • Salmon / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Maturation


  • Hemoglobins
  • Oxygen