Understanding how gilthead sea bream. Sparus aurata L., an important Mediterranean Sea species for aquaculture, respond physiologically to stressors commonly encountered in intensive rearing is important for effective production, as managing for stress is a major factor in maintaining healthy fish stocks. Our objective was to determine whether holding juvenile gilthead sea bream at a high density (HD), as a chronic stressor, would affect their physiological responses to a subsequent acute handling stressor. After acclimation at a low density (LD) of 6 kg m-3 in 200-L circular tanks containing 33-36 g L-1 recirculating seawater at 19°C under a normal photoperiod, juvenile 37-g gilthead sea bream were confined for 14 days at a HD of 26 kg m-3 and then subjected to 30-s aerial emersion in a dipnet. Plasma levels of cortisol, glucose, lactate, osmolality and chloride were determined in fish held in separate lots during LD (control) and HD confinement at 0, 1, 2, 7 and 14 days, and then after handling at 0, 1, 2, 4 and 8 h. Although plasma cortisol levels were similar in LD and HD fish groups after 14 d of confinement (15 and 23 ng mL-1 respectively), the cortisol response in fish from the HD treatment at 1 and 2 h following acute handling (70 and 37 ng mL -1, respectively) was only about half of that measured in the control group (139 and 102 ng mL-1); plasma cortisol was similar in both groups by 4 and 8 h. In contrast, plasma glucose elevations in response to handling were higher at 4 and 8 h in the HD-held fish (94 and 72 mg dL -1, respectively) than in those from the LD treatment (59 and 51 mg dL-1): glucose responses were similar in both groups at 1 and 2 h after handling and throughout confinement. Plasma lactate levels were higher in LD fish than in the HD group at the beginning of the experiment but were similar after 14 d confinement and responses to handling were similar (e.g. 33 and 35 mg dL-1 at 1 h). Plasma osmolality showed increases during the first 2 h after acute handling but no differences were evident between the two density treatments at any time during confinement or posthandling. Plasma chloride levels did not change throughout the experiment. The reduced plasma cortisol response to acute handling likely resulted from negative feedback of mildly but chronically elevated circulating cortisol caused by the confinement stressor on the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal axis. While other post-handling physiological changes also showed differences between treatment groups, the suppressed cortisol response in the HD-held fish suggests a reduction in the gilthead sea bream's normal capacity to respond to an acute stressor.
- Sea bream
- Sparus aurata