Development of salinity tolerance in the endangered anadromous North Sea houting Coregonus oxyrinchus: implications for conservation measures

Lasse Fast Jensen, Dennis Sondergard Thomsen, Steffen S. Madsen, Mads Ejbye-Ernst, Søren Brandt Poulsen, Jon Christian Svendsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


The North Sea houting Coregonus oxyrinchus is an endangered anadromous salmonid belonging to the European lake whitefish complex. The last remaining indigenous population of North Sea houting is found in the River Vidaa, Denmark. Despite legislative protection and numerous stocking and habitat restoration programmes, including a (sic)13.4 million EU Life restoration project, populations are declining in most rivers in Denmark. Limited knowledge of the general biology of the species, in particular of the early life history stages and habitat requirements, is a serious impediment to management and conservation. In this study, we investigated larval and juvenile salinity tolerance, providing novel information on the early life stages of North Sea houting. Results revealed an ontogenetic differentiation in salinity tolerance when comparing newly hatched larvae, larvae at later developmental stages and juveniles expected to initiate migration to the Wadden Sea. At all developmental stages, larvae exhibited poor hyperosmotic tolerance, while juveniles performed significantly better. Larvae suffered from high mortality and loss of body water at salinities of 18 ppt and higher, while most juveniles survived 30 ppt at least when exposed to gradually increasing salinities. Our results suggest that larval North Sea houting experience very high mortality if carried directly into the Wadden Sea prematurely, highlighting the need for suitable habitat within rivers to retain larvae. Our study shows how different life stages respond differently to varying environmental conditions and emphasizes the need for understanding the physiological mechanisms to improve conservation of endangered species.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEndangered Species Research
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)175-186
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • North Sea North East Atlantic, North Atlantic Atlantic Ocean
  • River Vidaa Denmark, Europe Palearctic region
  • Wadden Sea North Sea, North East Atlantic, North Atlantic Atlantic Ocean
  • osmoregulation
  • population decline
  • salinity tolerance
  • species conservation
  • Pisces Vertebrata Chordata Animalia (Animals, Chordates, Fish, Nonhuman Vertebrates, Vertebrates) - Osteichthyes [85206] Coregonus oxyrinchus species North Sea houting common larva, immature protected species
  • 00512, General biology - Conservation and resource management
  • 07502, Ecology: environmental biology - General and methods
  • 07516, Ecology: environmental biology - Wildlife management: aquatic
  • 12002, Physiology - General
  • 25502, Development and Embryology - General and descriptive
  • Conservation
  • Chemical Coordination and Homeostasis
  • Wildlife Management


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