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Euryhaline organisms are able to adapt to a wide range of salinities. An example of a euryhaline fish is the molly (Poecilia sphenops) which can live in fresh water, brackish water, or salt water.


The green crab ( Carcinus maenas ) is an example of a euryhaline invertebrate that can live in salt and brackish water. Euryhaline organisms are commonly found in habitats such as estuaries and tide pools where the salinity changes regularly. However, some organisms are euryhaline because their life cycle involves migration between freshwater and marine environments, as is the case with salmon and eels.

The opposite of euryhaline organisms are stenohaline ones, which can only survive within a narrow range of salinities. Most freshwater organisms are stenohaline, and will die in seawater, and similarly most marine organisms are stenohaline, and cannot live in fresh water.


Osmoseragulation Carangoides bartholomaei bw en2.png
Movement of water and ions in a saltwater fish
(yellow jack)
Bachforelle osmoregulatoin bw en2.png
Movement of water and ions in a freshwater fish
(brown trout)

Osmoregulation is the active process by which an organism maintains its level of water content. The osmotic pressure in the body is homeostatically regulated in such a manner that it keeps the organism's fluids from becoming too diluted or too concentrated. Osmotic pressure is a measure of the tendency of water to move into one solution from another by osmosis.

Two major types of osmoregulation are osmoconformers and osmoregulators. Osmoconformers match their body osmolarity to their environment actively or passively. Most marine invertebrates are osmoconformers, although their ionic composition may be different from that of seawater.

Osmoregulators tightly regulate their body osmolarity, which always stays constant, and are more common in the animal kingdom. Osmoregulators actively control salt concentrations despite the salt concentrations in the environment. An example is freshwater fish. The gills actively uptake salt from the environment by the use of mitochondria-rich cells. Water will diffuse into the fish, so it excretes a very hypotonic (dilute) urine to expel all the excess water. A marine fish has an internal osmotic concentration lower than that of the surrounding seawater, so it tends to lose water (to the more negative surroundings) and gain salt. It actively excretes salt out from the gills. Most fish are stenohaline, which means they are restricted to either salt or fresh water and cannot survive in water with a different salt concentration than they are adapted to. However, some fish show a tremendous ability to effectively osmoregulate across a broad range of salinities; fish with this ability are known as euryhaline species, e.g., salmon. Salmon has been observed to inhabit two utterly disparate environments marine and fresh water and it is inherent to adapt to both by bringing in behavioral and physiological modifications.

Some marine fish, like sharks, have adopted a different, efficient mechanism to conserve water, i.e., osmoregulation. They retain urea in their blood in relatively higher concentration. Urea is damaging to living tissue so, to cope with this problem, some fish retain trimethylamine oxide . This provides a better solution to urea's toxicity. Sharks, having slightly higher solute concentration (i.e., above 1000 mOsm which is sea solute concentration), do not drink water like marine fish.

Euryhaline fish

The level of salinity in intertidal zones can also be quite variable. Low salinities can be caused by rainwater or river inputs of freshwater. Estuarine species must be especially euryhaline, or able to tolerate a wide range of salinities. High salinities occur in locations with high evaporation rates, such as in salt marshes and high intertidal pools. Shading by plants, especially in the salt marsh, can slow evaporation and thus ameliorate salinity stress. In addition, salt marsh plants tolerate high salinities by several physiological mechanisms, including excreting salt through salt glands and preventing salt uptake into the roots.

Despite having a regular freshwater presence, the Atlantic stingray is physiologically euryhaline and no population has evolved the specialized osmoregulatory mechanisms found in the river stingrays of the family Potamotrygonidae. This may be due to the relatively recent date of freshwater colonization (under one million years), and/or possibly incomplete genetic isolation of the freshwater populations, as they remain capable of surviving in salt water. Freshwater Atlantic stingrays have only 30-50% the concentration of urea and other osmolytes in their blood compared to marine populations. However, the osmotic pressure between their internal fluids and external environment still causes water to diffuse into their bodies, and they must produce large quantities of dilute urine (at 10 times the rate of marine individuals) to compensate. [2]

Partial list

Other euryhaline organisms

See also

Related Research Articles

Brackish water Water with salinity between freshwater and seawater

Brackish water, also sometimes termed brack water, is water occurring in a natural environment having more salinity than freshwater, but not as much as seawater. It may result from mixing seawater with fresh water together, as in estuaries, or it may occur in brackish fossil aquifers. The word comes from the Middle Dutch root "brak". Certain human activities can produce brackish water, in particular civil engineering projects such as dikes and the flooding of coastal marshland to produce brackish water pools for freshwater prawn farming. Brackish water is also the primary waste product of the salinity gradient power process. Because brackish water is hostile to the growth of most terrestrial plant species, without appropriate management it is damaging to the environment.

Salinity The proportion of salt dissolved in a body of water

Salinity is the saltiness or amount of salt dissolved in a body of water, called saline water. It is usually measured in g/L or g/kg.

Halotolerance is the adaptation of living organisms to conditions of high salinity. Halotolerant species tend to live in areas such as hypersaline lakes, coastal dunes, saline deserts, salt marshes, and inland salt seas and springs. Halophiles are organisms that live in highly saline environments, and require the salinity to survive, while halotolerant organisms can grow under saline conditions, but do not require elevated concentrations of salt for growth. Halophytes are salt-tolerant higher plants. Halotolerant microorganisms are of considerable biotechnological interest.

Gill Respiratory organ

A gill is a respiratory organ that many aquatic organisms use to extract dissolved oxygen from water and to excrete carbon dioxide. The gills of some species, such as hermit crabs, have adapted to allow respiration on land provided they are kept moist. The microscopic structure of a gill presents a large surface area to the external environment. Branchia is the zoologists' name for gills.

Estuary Partially enclosed coastal body of brackish water with river stream flow, and with a free connection to the sea

An estuary is a partially enclosed coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea. Estuaries form a transition zone between river environments and maritime environments and are an example of an ecotone. Estuaries are subject both to marine influences such as tides, waves, and the influx of saline water and to riverine influences such as flows of freshwater and sediment. The mixing of seawater and freshwater provides high levels of nutrients both in the water column and in sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world.

Seawater Water from a sea or an ocean

Seawater, or salt water, is water from a sea or ocean. On average, seawater in the world's oceans has a salinity of about 3.5%. This means that every kilogram of seawater has approximately 35 grams (1.2 oz) of dissolved salts. Average density at the surface is 1.025 kg/l. Seawater is denser than both fresh water and pure water because the dissolved salts increase the mass by a larger proportion than the volume. In comparison most human physiological saline levels are approximately one quarter of this, for example blood is 9g/l. The freezing point of seawater decreases as salt concentration increases. At typical salinity, it freezes at about −2 °C (28 °F). The coldest seawater still in the liquid state ever recorded was found in 2010, in a stream under an Antarctic glacier: the measured temperature was −2.6 °C (27.3 °F). Seawater pH is typically limited to a range between 7.5 and 8.4. However, there is no universally accepted reference pH-scale for seawater and the difference between measurements based on different reference scales may be up to 0.14 units.

Bull shark Species of fish

The bull shark, also known as the "Zambezi shark" in Africa, and "Lake Nicaragua shark" in Nicaragua, is a requiem shark commonly found worldwide in warm, shallow waters along coasts and in rivers. It is known for its aggressive nature, and presence in warm, shallow brackish and freshwater systems including estuaries and rivers.

Aquatic animal Animal which lives in the water for most or all of its lifetime

An aquatic animal is an animal, either vertebrate or invertebrate, which lives in the water for most or all of its lifetime. Many insects such as mosquitoes, mayflies, dragonflies and caddisflies have aquatic larvae, with winged adults. Aquatic animals may breathe air or extract oxygen that dissolved in water through specialised organs called gills, or directly through the skin. Natural environments and the animals that live in them can be categorized as aquatic (water) or terrestrial (land). This designation is polyphyletic.

Osmoconformers are marine organisms that maintain an internal environment which is isotonic to their external environment. This means that the osmotic pressure of the organism's cells is equal to the osmotic pressure of their surrounding environment. By minimizing the osmotic gradient, this subsequently minimizes the net influx and efflux of water into and out of cells. Even though osmoconformers have an internal environment that is isosmotic to their external environment, the types of ions in the two environments differ greatly in order to allow critical biological functions to occur.


Tonicity is a measure of the effective osmotic pressure gradient; the water potential of two solutions separated by a semipermeable cell membrane. Tonicity depends on the relative concentration of selectively membrane permeable solutes across a cell membrane which determine the direction and extent of osmotic flux. It is commonly used when describing the swelling versus shrinking response of cells immersed in an external solution.

Atlantic stingray Species of cartilaginous fish

The Atlantic stingray is a species of stingray in the family Dasyatidae, common along the Atlantic coast of North America from Chesapeake Bay to Mexico, including brackish and freshwater habitats. It may be distinguished from other stingrays in the area by its relatively elongated snout. This species is of little commercial importance, other than for sale in the aquarium industry.

Stenohaline Term describing organisms that can tolerate a wide range of salinities

Stenohaline describes an organism, usually fish, that cannot tolerate a wide fluctuation in the salinity of water. Stenohaline is derived from the words: "steno" meaning narrow, and "haline" meaning salt. Many fresh water fish, such as goldfish, tend to be stenohaline and die in environments of high salinity such as the ocean. Many marine fish, such as haddock, are also stenohaline and die in water with lower salinity.

Salt gland

The salt gland is an organ for excreting excess salts. It is found in the cartilaginous fishes subclass elasmobranchii, seabirds, and some reptiles. Salt glands can be found in the rectum of sharks. Birds and reptiles have salt glands located in or on the skull, usually in the eyes, nose, or mouth. These glands are lobed containing many secretory tubules which radiate outward from the excretory canal at the center. Secretory tubules are lined with a single layer of epithelial cells. The diameter and length of these glands vary depending on the salt uptake of the species.

The Niger stingray or smooth freshwater stingray, Dasyatis garouaensis, is a species of stingray in the family Dasyatidae, native to rivers in Nigeria and Cameroon. Attaining a width of 40 cm (16 in), this species can be distinguished by its thin, almost circular pectoral fin disk, slightly projecting snout tip, and mostly smooth skin with small or absent dermal denticles. The Niger stingray feeds on aquatic insect larvae and is ovoviviparous. The long stinging spine on the tail of this ray can inflict a painful wound. It has been assessed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), as its numbers are declining in some areas and it faces heavy fishing pressure and habitat degradation.

White-edge freshwater whipray Species of cartilaginous fish

The white-edge freshwater whipray is an extremely rare species of stingray in the family Dasyatidae, native to four river systems in Southeast Asia. Measuring up to 60 cm (24 in) across, this ray has an oval pectoral fin disc and a very long, whip-like tail without fin folds. It can be identified by the presence of a sharply delineated white band running around the margin of its otherwise brown disc, as well as by its white tail and a band of dermal denticles along the middle of its back. This species feeds on benthic invertebrates and is aplacental viviparous. Its two long tail spines are potentially dangerous to humans. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed the white-edge freshwater whipray as Endangered, as it is under heavy pressure from fishing and habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation.

Osmoregulation is the active regulation of the osmotic pressure of an organism's body fluids, detected by osmoreceptors, to maintain the homeostasis of the organism's water content; that is, it maintains the fluid balance and the concentration of electrolytes to keep the body fluids from becoming too diluted or concentrated. Osmotic pressure is a measure of the tendency of water to move into one solution from another by osmosis. The higher the osmotic pressure of a solution, the more water tends to move into it. Pressure must be exerted on the hypertonic side of a selectively permeable membrane to prevent diffusion of water by osmosis from the side containing pure water.

Fish physiology Scientific study of how the component parts of fish function together in the living fish

Fish physiology is the scientific study of how the component parts of fish function together in the living fish. It can be contrasted with fish anatomy, which is the study of the form or morphology of fishes. In practice, fish anatomy and physiology complement each other, the former dealing with the structure of a fish, its organs or component parts and how they are put together, such as might be observed on the dissecting table or under the microscope, and the later dealing with how those components function together in the living fish.

Saltwater aquaponics is a combination of plant cultivation and fish rearing, systems with similarities to standard aquaponics, except that it uses saltwater instead of the more commonly used freshwater. In some instances, this may be diluted saltwater. The concept is being researched as a sustainable way to eliminate the stresses that are put on local environments by conventional fish farming practices who expel wastewater into the coastal zones, all while creating complementary crops.


An ionocyte (formerly called a chloride cell) is a mitochondrion-rich cell within a teleost fish gill that contributes to the maintenance of optimal osmotic, ionic, and acid-base levels within the fish. By expending energy to power the enzyme Na+/K+-ATPase and in coordination with other protein transporters, marine teleost ionocytes pump excessive sodium and chloride ions against the concentration gradient into the ocean. Conversely, freshwater teleost ionocytes use this low intracellular environment to attain sodium and chloride ions into the organism, and also against the concentration gradient. In larval fishes with underdeveloped / developing gills, ionocytes can be found on the skin and fins.

The rock dove, Columbia livia, has a number of special adaptations for regulating water uptake and loss.


  1. Thorson, T.B. (1983). "Observations on the morphology, ecology and life history of the euryhaline stingray, Dasyatis guttata (Bloch and Schneider) 1801". Acta Biologica Venezuelica. 11 (4): 95–126.
  2. Piermarini, P.M.; Evans, D.H. (1998). "Osmoregulation of the Atlantic Stingray (Dasyatis sabina) from the Freshwater Lake Jesup of the St. Johns River, Florida" (PDF). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 71 (5): 553–560. doi:10.1086/515973. PMID   9754532. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-07-31.