Osmoregulation in wild and captive West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus).
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The ability of West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris and Trichechus manatus manatus) to inhabit both freshwater and marine habitats presents an interesting model to study osmoregulation in sirenians. Blood samples were analyzed from manatees held in fresh- and saltwater and from wild animals captured in fresh-, brackish, and saltwater for concentrations of aldosterone, arginine vasopressin, plasma renin activity, Na+, K+, Cl-, and osmolality. Two separate experiments were also conducted on captive animals to evaluate osmoregulatory responses to acute saltwater exposure and freshwater deprivation. Spurious differences were observed in plasma electrolyte and osmolality among the captive and wild groups. Wild brackish water animals exhibited the highest vasopressin concentrations, while wild freshwater manatees had the highest aldosterone levels. A significant correlation between mean vasopressin and osmolality was demonstrated for captive and wild animals. When freshwater animals were acutely exposed to saltwater, osmolality, Na+, and Cl- increased 5.5%, 8.0%, and 14%, respectively, while aldosterone decreased 82.6%. Saltwater animals deprived of freshwater exhibited an almost twofold increase in aldosterone during the deprivation period and a fourfold decrease when freshwater was again provided. Within this group, osmolality increased significantly by 3.4% over the course of the study; however, electrolytes did not change. The lack of consistent differences in electrolyte and osmolality among wild and captive groups suggests that manatees are good osmoregulators regardless of the environment. The high aldosterone levels in wild freshwater animals may indicate a need to conserve Na+, while the high vasopressin levels in wild brackish-water manatees suggest an antidiuretic state to conserve water. Vasopressin levels appear to be osmotically mediated in manatees as in other mammals.