a1 Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, G12 8QQ
a2 University Marine Biological Station, Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, Scotland, KA28 OEG
a3 Institut für Zoophysiologie, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, Germany
Sulphide occurs widely in marine sediments and is highly toxic to most organisms. Its principal poisoning effect occurs at extremely low concentrations and is the result of inhibition of mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase. Mud-shrimps (Crustacea: Thalassinidea), construct burrows in sublittoral muddy sediments. The sediment in which they burrow is markedly reduced and conditions within the burrow are usually hypoxic and hypercapnic. Field measurements indicate that the shrimps may be exposed to potentially toxic levels of sulphide in the burrow water (range 0–206 μM, N=37). Laboratory experiments carried out on Calocaris macandreae, Callianassa subterranea and Jaxea nocturna have shown that these species have a high tolerance of sulphide. An oxygen dependent detoxification mechanism exists to defend cytochrome c oxidase from sulphide poisoning. The main detoxification product of this mechanism is thiosulphate which accumulates rapidly even during brief exposures to low concentrations of sulphide. Sulphite also appears as a secondary detoxification product. Aerobic metabolism can be maintained even under severe hypoxia and toxic sulphide conditions. The mud-shrimps switch to anaerobiosis when the detoxification mechanism is saturated. These data indicate that mud-shrimps are physiologically adapted to tolerate elevated levels of sulphide that they may encounter in their natural habitat.