The impacts of warming and hypoxia on the performance of an obligate ram ventilator

Daniel P. Crear, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Richard W. Brill, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Peter G. Bushnell
Robert J. Latour, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Gail D. Schwieterman, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Rachel M. Steffen
Kevin C. Weng, Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Climate change is causing the warming and deoxygenation of coastal habitats like Chesapeake Bay that serve as important nursery habitats for many marine fish species. As conditions continue to change, it is important to understand how these changes impact individual species’ behavioral and metabolic performance. The sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) is an obligate ram-ventilating apex predator whose juveniles use Chesapeake Bay as a nursery ground up to 10 years of age. The objective of this study was to measure juvenile sandbar shark metabolic and behavioral performance as a proxy for overall performance (i.e. fitness or success) when exposed to warm and hypoxic water. Juvenile sandbar sharks (79.5–113.5 cm total length) were collected from an estuary along the eastern shore of Virginia and returned to lab where they were fitted with an accelerometer, placed in a respirometer and exposed to varying temperatures and oxygen levels. Juvenile sandbar shark overall performance declined substantially at 32°C or when dissolved oxygen concentration was reduced below 3.5 mg l−1 (51% oxygen saturation between 24–32°C). As the extent of warm hypoxic water increases in Chesapeake Bay, we expect that the available sandbar shark nursery habitat will be reduced, which may negatively impact the population of sandbar sharks in the western Atlantic as well as the overall health of the ecosystem within Chesapeake Bay.