Swimming in air-breathing fishes

J Fish Biol. 2014 Mar;84(3):661-81. doi: 10.1111/jfb.12308. Epub 2014 Feb 6.


Fishes with bimodal respiration differ in the extent of their reliance on air breathing to support aerobic metabolism, which is reflected in their lifestyles and ecologies. Many freshwater species undertake seasonal and reproductive migrations that presumably involve sustained aerobic exercise. In the six species studied to date, aerobic exercise in swim flumes stimulated air-breathing behaviour, and there is evidence that surfacing frequency and oxygen uptake from air show an exponential increase with increasing swimming speed. In some species, this was associated with an increase in the proportion of aerobic metabolism met by aerial respiration, while in others the proportion remained relatively constant. The ecological significance of anaerobic swimming activities, such as sprinting and fast-start manoeuvres during predator-prey interactions, has been little studied in air-breathing fishes. Some species practise air breathing during recovery itself, while others prefer to increase aquatic respiration, possibly to promote branchial ion exchange to restore acid-base balance, and to remain quiescent and avoid being visible to predators. Overall, the diversity of air-breathing fishes is reflected in their swimming physiology as well, and further research is needed to increase the understanding of the differences and the mechanisms through which air breathing is controlled and used during exercise.

Keywords: aerobic metabolism; bimodal respiration; exercise; recovery; respiratory partitioning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aerobiosis
  • Air
  • Anaerobiosis
  • Animals
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Respiration*
  • Swimming / physiology*


  • Oxygen