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Physiological stress and pathology in European whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) induced by subchronic exposure to environmentally relevant densities of Planktothrix rubescens
Ernst, B.; Hoeger, S.J.; O’Brien, E.; Dietrich, D.R. (2007). Physiological stress and pathology in European whitefish (Coregonus lavaretus) induced by subchronic exposure to environmentally relevant densities of Planktothrix rubescens. Aquat. Toxicol. 82(1): 15-26.
In: Aquatic Toxicology. Elsevier Science: Tokyo; New York; London; Amsterdam. ISSN 0166-445X, more
Peer reviewed article  

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    Fish; Pathology; Coregonus lavaretus (Linnaeus, 1758) [WoRMS]; Planktothrix rubescens (De Candolle ex Gomont) Anagnostidis & Komárek, 1988 [WoRMS]; Marine; Brackish water; Fresh water

Authors  Top 
  • Ernst, B.
  • Hoeger, S.J.
  • O’Brien, E.
  • Dietrich, D.R.

    Planktothrix rubescens belongs to the most ubiquitous cyanobacterial species in mesotrophic and oligotrophic lakes in the pre-alpine regions. In most of these lakes, coregonids are among the dominant species of the ichthyofauna with great importance for the professional fishery. A possible link between the occurrence of toxic Planktothrix blooms and the recurrent slumps in coregonid yields has been suggested. Indeed, acute toxic effects of microcystins and other cyanobacterial toxins have been shown for various fish species. However, chronic exposure scenarios appear to be more common and thus more environmentally realistic than acute intoxications. The aim of this study was therefore to investigate the physiological stress response and organ pathology in coregonids sub-chronically exposed to ambient water containing low, medium and high P. rubescens densities, known to be typical of pre-alpine lakes. Coregonid hatchlings were exposed in four tanks containing 0 (sham-control) and approximately 1500 (low), 15,000 (medium) and 55,000 (high) P. rubescens cells/ml for up to 28 days. Temperature, oxygen concentration, pH-value, P. rubescens cell density and microcystin concentration were recorded and the fish were observed for behavioural changes and examined for parasite infestations. Gill ventilation rates, general condition factors and mortalities were determined and liver, kidney, gut and gill were assessed histopathologically and immunhistologically.

    Depending on the cell density, exposed fish showed behavioural changes, including increased ventilation rates possibly representing a physiological stress response. Susceptibility to ectoparasitic infestation and increased mortality in exposed fish suggested P. rubescens associated effects on fish fitness. Histopathological alterations in liver, gastrointestinal tract and kidney, which were also immunopositive for microcystin suggested causality of tissue damage and the presence of microcystins. In contrast, observed gill pathology appeared to result primarily from mechanical abrasion and irritation due to ectoparasitic infestation. The current exposure experiment confirmed the hypothesis that subchronic and chronic exposure to low cyanobacterial cell densities and hence microcystins can exacerbate physiological stress and sustained pathological alterations in exposed coregonids. The study therefore supports the theory that P. rubescens blooms may be causal to the observed weight reduction and hence fitness of coregonids in pre-alpine lakes such as Lake Ammersee (Germany).

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