MEPS 133:43-55 (1996)  -  doi:10.3354/meps133043

Food deprivation affects vertical distribution and activity of a marine fish in a thermal gradient: potential energy-conserving mechanisms

Sogard SM, Olla BL

The effects of reduced food availability on the behavior of juvenile walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma were examined in laboratory experiments designed to test for potential energy-conserving responses. Groups of juvenile fish were held on 1 of 6 ration treatments ranging from ad libitum to near starvation, and then vertical distribution and activity levels were quantified in a 2.5 m deep water column under isothermal and thermally stratified conditions. Stratification resulted in a general shift to the upper, warmer layer in the 2 experiments employing a sharp thermocline at mid-depth, but the occurrence of fish in the colder bottom layer varied with different ration treatments. Movement into cold water increased in intermediate ration groups compared to high ration groups. Since reduced temperatures should reduce metabolic costs, this behavior is consistent with our hypothesis that food deprivation should invoke energy-saving behaviors. However, activity levels increased for fish held on intermediate rations, suggesting that the greater movement into cold water was a corollary result of increased searching for food. Fish in the lowest ration treatments had decreased activity levels, but also decreased their movement into cold water when a sharp thermocline was present, negating potential bioenergetic benefits. In the third experiment, there was a gradual thermal gradient from surface to bottom rather than a sharp thermocline. Temperatures associated with vertical positions of the fish were determined. In this experiment, clear energy-conserving responses to temperature were displayed by food-deprived fish; the average temperatures occupied by fish on starvation rations were 3 to 4*C colder than those of the higher ration groups. Based on the high Q10 for metabolic rates of juvenile pollock, these reduced temperatures potentially conferred energy savings of up to 34%, relative to the metabolic expenditures of fish on high rations. The contrast in behavior for the lowest ration groups between sharply stratified and gradually stratified conditions suggested that the severity of the temperature gradient influenced the fishes' ability to take advantage of cold water as an energetic refuge. The behavior of fish in the laboratory was consistent with prior observations in the Bering Sea, where juvenile walleye pollock remained in surface waters if food availability was high, but initiated vertical migration into deeper, colder water with reduced prey densities. Results of this study demonstrated a broad flexibility in the behavioral mechanisms used by walleye pollock to deal with declining food levels. The initial response to food limitation was increased activity, indicative of greater searching behavior. With extended food deprivation, a switch to energy-conserving behavior was evident. The temperature responses of fish experiencing severe food limitation provided support for a bioenergetic hypothesis of diel vertical migration.


Behavior . Temperature . Starvation . Bioenergetics . Walleye pollock


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