Physiological and behavioral responses to salinity in coastal Dice snakes Article - Septembre 2017

Francois Brischoux, Yurii V Kornilev, Harvey B. Lillywhite

Francois Brischoux, Yurii V Kornilev, Harvey B. Lillywhite, « Physiological and behavioral responses to salinity in coastal Dice snakes  », Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - Part A : Molecular and Integrative Physiology, numéro spécial Part A, septembre 2017, pp. 13-18. ISSN 1095-6433


Secondarily marine tetrapods have evolved adaptations to maintain their osmotic balance in a hyperosmotic environment. During the transition to a marine habitat, the evolution of a euryhaline physiology likely encompassed successive changes in behavior and physiology that released organisms from regular access to fresh water. Deciphering these key steps is a complicated task. In this study, we investigated a species of freshwater natricine snake in which some populations are known to use marine environments. We experimentally subjected 30 adult Dice snakes (Natrix tessellata) from a population inhabiting the Black Sea coast to three salinities corresponding to freshwater ( 0.1‰), brackish water ( 15.0‰), and full-strength seawater ( 34.0‰) in order to investigate their physiological (variation of body mass, osmolality) and behavioral (activity, drinking behavior) responses to salinity. Our results show that coastal Dice snakes from the study population are relatively tolerant to salinity close to that recorded in the Black Sea, but that prolonged exposure to full-strength seawater increases osmolality, stimulates thirst, decreases the activity of snakes and may ultimately jeopardize survival. Collectively with previously published data, our results strongly suggest specific physiological adaptations to withstand hyperosmolality rather than to reduce intake of salt, in coastal populations or species of semi-aquatic snakes. Future comparative investigations of Dice snakes from populations restricted to freshwater environment might reveal the functional traits and the behavioral and physiological responses of coastal N. tessellata to life in water with elevated salinity.

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