Research Article: Salinity reduction benefits European eel larvae: Insights at the morphological and molecular level

Date Published: June 13, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Sebastian N. Politis, David Mazurais, Arianna Servili, Jose-Luis Zambonino-Infante, Joanna J. Miest, Jonna Tomkiewicz, Ian A. E. Butts, Tzong-Yueh Chen.


European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is a euryhaline species, that has adapted to cope with both, hyper- and hypo-osmotic environments. This study investigates the effect of salinity, from a morphological and molecular point of view on European eel larvae reared from 0 to 12 days post hatch (dph). Offspring reared in 36 practical salinity units (psu; control), were compared with larvae reared in six scenarios, where salinity was decreased on 0 or 3 dph and in rates of 1, 2 or 4 psu/day, towards iso-osmotic conditions. Results showed that several genes relating to osmoregulation (nkcc2α, nkcc2β, aqp1dup, aqpe), stress response (hsp70, hsp90), and thyroid metabolism (thrαA, thrαB, thrβB, dio1, dio2, dio3) were differentially expressed throughout larval development, while nkcc1α, nkcc2β, aqp3, aqp1dup, aqpe, hsp90, thrαA and dio3 showed lower expression in response to the salinity reduction. Moreover, larvae were able to keep energy metabolism related gene expression (atp6, cox1) at stable levels, irrespective of the salinity reduction. As such, when reducing salinity, an energy surplus associated to reduced osmoregulation demands and stress (lower nkcc, aqp and hsp expression), likely facilitated the observed increased survival, improved biometry and enhanced growth efficiency. Additionally, the salinity reduction decreased the amount of severe deformities such as spinal curvature and emaciation but also induced an edematous state of the larval heart, resulting in the most balanced mortality/deformity ratio when salinity was decreased on 3 dph and at 2 psu/day. However, the persistency of the pericardial edema and if or how it represents an obstacle in further larval development needs to be further clarified. In conclusion, this study clearly showed that salinity reduction regimes towards iso-osmotic conditions facilitated the European eel pre-leptocephalus development and revealed the existence of highly sensitive and regulated osmoregulation processes at such early life stage of this species.

Partial Text

Eels (Anguilla spp.) are euryhaline species that have adapted to cope with both, hyper- and hypo-osmotic environments, likely due to regular salinity changes in their habitats (i.e. estuaries) and/or migrations between freshwater and marine environments to complete their life cycle [1]. Adult eels undertake a downstream (catadromous) reproductive migration towards oceanic spawning areas, while eel offspring undertake an upstream migration towards estuarine or freshwater environments [1]. Unfortunately though, the natural populations and their reproductive potential have declined to a historical minimum, mainly due to climatic and anthropogenic pressures during the different phases of the eel life cycle [2]. The most exploited and negatively impacted populations today are the endangered American (A. rostrata) eel and Japanese (A. japonica) eel [3–4] as well as the critically endangered European (A. anguilla) eel [5].

European eel is critically endangered with diminishing glass eel recruitment [2]. Thus, there is an urgent need to artificially produce offspring and improve survival during ELH of this species. Latest efforts have focused on extrinsic (environmental) factors such as light [14] and temperature [13, 45], while only eggs and embryos have been assessed regarding salinity effects [36]. In the closely related Japanese eel, a major improvement in larval captive rearing has been attributed to reduced salinity regimes [15, 46]. Therefore, this study investigated the effect of salinity on artificially produced European eel larvae (from a morphological and molecular point of view), to elucidate functionality and timing of osmoregulation related processes affecting ELH, in order to ultimately determine optimal conditions for rearing European eel pre-leptocephalus larvae in aquaculture. To accomplish this, we reared offspring throughout the endogenous feeding window (0–12 dph) and compared larvae reared at 36 psu (control), which is close to the salinity occurring in the Sargasso Sea [19], with larvae reared under reduced salinity conditions. Here, salinity was decreased on 0 or 3 dph and at rates of 1, 2 or 4 psu/day, resulting in six different salinity treatments (01, 02, 04, 31, 32 and 34).




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