Why Baltic herring and sprat are weak conduits for astaxanthin from zooplankton to piscivorous fish
Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(3), 2011, 1155-1167 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.3.1155
ABSTRACT: Atlantic salmon living in the brackish Baltic Sea have lower muscle pigmentation than populations elsewhere. The pigment in question is the antioxidant and vitamin A precursor astaxanthin, which is synthesized by crustaceans from algal carotenoids. Baltic salmon feed nearly exclusively on the clupeids sprat and herring. To evaluate astaxanthin availability to salmon we assessed astaxanthin levels and isomeric composition in their prey fish. We also analyzed astaxanthin dynamics in the dominant piscivorous fish in the Baltic Sea, the Atlantic cod. The geometrical E- (trans-) and Z- (cis-) isomers were distributed selectively in fish tissues, with highest E : Z ratios in salmon gonads (82 : 18) and lowest in herring gonads (24 : 76). Sprat and herring are not ideal prey with respect to their high whole-body concentrations of Z-isomers, which have low bioavailability for salmon and cod. These Z-isomers predominantly accumulate in the clupeid gonads. A crucial mechanism for the transport of astaxanthin from clupeids to piscivores is the direct transfer of crustacean astaxanthin (mainly all-E) from the clupeid stomachs. Low stomach astaxanthin content in clupeids decreases total astaxanthin transfer to higher trophic levels. In autumn, herring stomachs (including contents) had 12.5 times lower astaxanthin concentrations than sprat stomachs, and herring had 2.8 times less whole-body all-E-astaxanthin (by weight) than sprat. These results confirm recent reports of starvation in the Baltic herring, which may further decrease astaxanthin levels in the Baltic salmon. Cod did not have lower astaxanthin levels than their Atlantic counterpart, which may be attributed to their lower need for astaxanthin and higher food diversity.