We measured contractile force of ventricular strips form the turtle Chrysemys picta bellii exposed to 1 h of combined anoxia and acidosis (pH 7.0) at 20 degrees C. Strips either beat spontaneously (self-paced) or in response to electrical stimulation (paced at 12, 24, or 36 beats/min). Tissue [lactate] and intracellular pH (pHi) were measured in control strips and at the end of anoxia-acidosis. In self-paced strips, at normal extracellular Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]o) (1 mM), both rate and force fell significantly after 1 h of anoxia-acidosis to 54 and 17.1%, respectively, of control values. Increased [Ca2+]o to 10 mM at 30 min had a small but significant positive effect on both rate and force. Contractile force of paced strips also fell progressively during anoxia-acidosis, but the decrease varied directly with pacing frequency. Under all cases of anoxia-acidosis, pHi fell significantly from the control value of 7.53; in paced strips, acidosis was most severe at 36 beats/min (pHi 6.75), and in self-paced strips, pHi (approximately 6.85) was independent of [Ca2+]o. Based on this and previous work, we conclude that combined anoxia-acidosis, similar to that observed in vivo after prolonged anoxic submergence, profoundly depresses cardiac function. Both hypercalcemia and bradycardia improve performance in this extreme state, but these effects are not as great as when anoxia and acidosis occur alone.