The double-edged sword of humic substances: contrasting their effect on respiratory stress in eastern rainbow fish exposed to low pH
High amounts of humic substances (HS) are commonly found in natural acidic waterways and have been suggested to offer some protection against low pH. This study investigated the ability of HS to decrease respiratory stress in eastern rainbowfish (Melanotaenia splendida splendida) exposed to decreases in pH (range of 7-3.5) in soft and hard water. Repeated measures ANOVA revealed a significant difference in respiration (time taken for ten operculum movements) between pH and HS treatments, with a significant interaction between pH and HS present in 5/6 trials. Respiratory stress was shown to increase with increasing acidity, but significantly decreased in treatments with HS (10 and 20 mg/L) compared to those without. The fish exposed to pH treatments without HS also displayed increased hyperactivity, larger operculum movements and increased mucous production. Increased morbidity was shown in HS treatments at pH 3.5 (soft water) and at pH 4 (hard water) compared to treatment without HS. This indicates that HS is helpful in ameliorating the effects of decreased pH on respiration at sublethal pH levels; however, as pH decreases further, it seems that HS increases the toxicity (morbidity) of the low pH.