Acid water interferes with salamander-green algae symbiosis during early embryonic development

Kristin Bianchini, Glenn J Tattersall, Jessica Sashaw, Cosima S Porteus, Patricia A Wright
Physiological and Biochemical Zoology: PBZ 2012, 85 (5): 470-80
The inner egg capsule of embryos of the yellow-spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) are routinely colonized by green algae, such as Oophila amblystomatis, that supply O(2) in the presence of light and may consume nitrogenous wastes, forming what has been proposed to be a mutualistic relationship. Given that A. maculatum have been reported to breed in acidic (pH <5.0) and neutral lakes, we hypothesized that low water pH would negatively affect these symbiotic organisms and alter the gradients within the jelly mass. Oxygen gradients were detected within jelly masses measured directly in a natural breeding pond (pH 4.5-4.8) at midday in full sunlight. In the lab, embryo jelly masses reared continuously at pH 4.5 had lower P(O)₂and higher ammonia levels relative to jelly masses held at pH 8.0 (control). Ammonia and lactate concentrations in embryonic tissues were approximately 37%-93% higher, respectively, in embryos reared at water pH 4.5 compared with pH 8.0. Mass was also reduced in embryos reared at pH 4.5 versus pH 8.0. In addition, light conditions (24 h light, 12L : 12D, or 24 h dark) and embryonic position (periphery vs. center) in the jelly mass affected P(O)₂but not ammonia gradients, suggesting that algal symbionts generate O(2) but do not significantly impact local ammonia concentrations, regardless of the pH of the water. We conclude that chronic exposure to acidic breeding ponds had a profound effect on the microenvironment of developing A. maculatum embryos, which in turn resulted in an elevation of potentially harmful metabolic end products and inhibited growth. Under acidic conditions, the expected benefit provided by the algae to the salamander embryo (i.e., high O(2) and low ammonia microenvironment) is compromised, suggesting that the A. maculatum-algal mutualism is beneficial to salamanders only at higher water pH values.

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