Migration of adult European eels (Anguilla anguilla) from freshwater feeding grounds to oceanic spawning grounds is an energetically demanding process and is accompanied by dramatic physiological and behavioral changes. Humans have altered the aquatic environment (e.g., dams) and made an inherently challenging migration even more difficult; human activity is regarded as the primary driver of the collapse in eel populations. The neuroendocrine stress response is central in coping with these challenging conditions, yet little is known about how various biotic factors such as sex, parasites, and ontogeny influence (singly and via interactions) the stress response of eels. In this study, mixed-effects and linear models were used to quantify the influence of sex, parasitism (Anguillicola crassus), life stage (yellow and silver eels), and silvering stage on the stress response of eels when exposed to a standardized handling stressor. The physiological response of eels to a standardized abiotic stressor (netting confinement in air) was quantified through measurements of blood glucose and plasma cortisol. The relationships between biotic factors and the activity of gill Na+/K+-ATPase was also examined. Analyses revealed that in some instances a biotic factor acted alone while in other cases several factors interacted to influence the stress response. Blood glucose concentrations increased after exposure to the standardized stressor and remained elevated after 4 h. Variation in plasma cortisol concentrations after exposure to the stressor were found to be time dependent, which was exacerbated by life stage and parasitism condition. Males and nonparasitized silver eels had the highest Na+/K+-ATPase activity. Silvering stage was strongly positively correlated with Na+/K+-ATPase activity in female eels. Collectively, these findings confirm that the factors mediating stress responsiveness in fish are complicated and that aspects of inherent biotic variation cannot be ignored.
Silva, A. T., Midwood, J. D., Aarestrup, K., Pottinger, T. G., Madsen, S. S., & Cooke, S. J. (2018). The influence of sex, parasitism, and ontogeny on the physiological response of European eel (Anguilla anguilla) to an abiotic stressor. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 91(4), 976-986. https://doi.org/10.1086/698689