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Renal, respiratory and ionic regulation in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) kelts following transfer from fresh water to seawater


Atlantic salmon may return to the sea after spawning in fresh water. These fish, known as kelts, reportedly show a limited ability to hypoosmoregulate. However, this study shows that fresh-water-adapted kelts exposed to seawater demonstrate rapid adaptation (within 48 h) in osmoregulatory parameters to values characteristic of seawater-adapted salmonids. The urine flow rate falls from 1.2 to 0.2 ml·kg-1·h-1 within 24 h. Over the same period, urine osmolality increases from 48 mosmol·kg-1 to become isosmotic with the plasma, and Mg2+ secretion by the kidney tubules elevates the urine concentration from 0.5 to 100 mmol·l-1. As is characteristic for marine teleosts, kelts drink seawater and process the ingested water in the gut to replace body water lost by osmosis to the hyperosmotic medium. Seawater exposure causes a marked hypoxia, arterial oxygen tension falling by 43% within minutes and persisting for at least 4 days at this low level. This is associated with large changes in blood pH and acid-base balance. The physiological mechanisms involved in adaptation to a hyperosmotic external medium are discussed, and the osmoregulatory capacity of kelts is compared with that of salmon at other stages of the life cycle.

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fresh water


glomerular filtration rate






mean cell haemoglobin concentration

pHa :

pH in arterial blood

P aO2 :

partial pressure of oxygen in arterial blood


standard error of mean




urine flow rate


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Talbot, C., Stagg, R.M. & Eddy, F.B. Renal, respiratory and ionic regulation in Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) kelts following transfer from fresh water to seawater. J Comp Physiol B 162, 358–364 (1992).

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Key words

  • Osmoregulation
  • Seawater adaptation
  • Kelts
  • Salmon, Salmo salar