Ciliates as the crucial food source of larval fish in a shallow eutrophic lake

Priit Zingel, Tiit Paaver, Katrit Karus, Helen Agasild and Tiina Nõges

Limnol. Oceanogr., 57(4), 2012, 1049-1056 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2012.57.4.1049

ABSTRACT: We assessed feeding of planktivorous fish larvae on ciliate protozooplankton in shallow eutrophic Lake Võrtsjärv, Estonia to determine whether ciliates are an important part of larval fish diet. We collected larvae of the most common fish species and examined their gut contents by gut segmentation and epifluorescence microscopy. Ciliates were present in the gut of all fish larvae. Gut segmentation analysis showed clear differences in food composition between gut quarters. The hard-bodied food items were quite evenly distributed in the gut, but the soft-bodied ciliates and rotifers were present only in the first gut quarters. Neglecting differences in prey digestion rate leads to underestimation of diet amount and composition and, especially, to underestimation of the role of protists in food. In Võrtsjärv, ciliates account for ∼ 60% of the total carbon biomass consumed by fish larvae. The food requirement of fish larvae during first feeding stages (May-Jun) would not be met without consumption of ciliates.

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