Ocean warming, eutrophication and consequent decrease in oxygen lead to smaller average fish size. Although such responses are well-known in an evolutionary context, involving multiple generations, it appears to be incompatible with current rapid environmental change. Rather, phenotypic plasticity could provide a means for marine fish to cope with rapid environmental changes. However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying plastic responses to environmental conditions that favour small phenotypes.
Our aim was to investigate how and why European sea bass that had experienced a short episode of moderate hypoxia during their larval stage subsequently exhibited a growth depression at the juvenile stage compared to the control group.
We examined whether energy was used to cover higher costs for maintenance, digestion or activity metabolisms, as a result of differing metabolic rate. The lower growth was not a consequence of lower feed intake.
We measured several respirometry parameters and we only found a higher SDA (Specific Dynamic Action) duration and lower SDA amplitude in a fish phenotype with lower growth; this phenotype was also associated with a lower protein digestive capacity in the intestine.
Our results contribute to the understanding of the observed decrease in growth in response to climate change. They demonstrate that the reduced growth of juvenile fishes as a consequence of an early-life hypoxia event was not due to a change of fish aerobic scope, but to a specific change in the efficiency of protein digestive functions. The question remains of whether this effect is epigenetic and could be reversible in the offspring.
- Received December 15, 2016.
- Accepted February 24, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd