Marine Biology

, Volume 148, Issue 2, pp 395–404 | Cite as

The role of the generally unrecognised microprey source as food for larval fish in the Irish Sea

  • Gisela M. de Figueiredo
  • Richard D. M. Nash
  • David J. S. MontagnesEmail author
Research Article


Few studies have studied the food supply to larval fish in the Irish Sea; thus, we have assessed the full prey-field available to larval fish, ranging from protozoa to copepods. Specifically we assessed if fish larvae feed on protozoa, as suggested by others, and if densities of the protozoa and the appropriate size of metazoan prey were previously underestimated. By examining the gutcontents of fish larvae, the prey available to them, and the potential accessibility of prey to fish, we develop a simple food web, presented as a box-model. By doing so, we indicate that the lack of focus on small metazoa and protozoa has underestimated the food available to fish larvae; without these, we might have concluded that prey levels were too low to support the growth of the larval fish assemblage. Our methods were as follows. Sampling was at two sites, off the Isle of Man, with distinct physical and biological structures, soon after fish spawning: the southwest coast, where many species occur in spring-summer (23 April; 6, 19 May; 1, 22 June; 12 July) and the east coast, where only herring larvae occur in September–November (12, 28 October). Microplankton (15–200 μm), mesozooplankton, and larval fish were collected at 1, 15, and 25 m: microplankton with 1.5 L bottles and a 64 μm-mesh net; mesozooplankton and larval fish with a Gulf VII high-speed sampler (280 μm mesh). The 64 μm mesh net, mounted on the Gulf VII, provided simultaneous hauls. Fixed samples were evaluated to determine species composition, abundance, and biomass. Larval fish diet was determined from fish collected by short net hauls: fixed guts were examined and prey, including protozoa, analysed. Using physical data as a guide, plankton data were integrated through the water column to determine standing stocks. Size-based food availability to larval fish was estimated from the gut contents. The role of protozoa was examined, assuming that they are digested at the same rate as metazoan and if they are digested 2.5–10 times faster; increased digestion rates indicated that they contributed substantially to the larval fish diet.


Larval Fish Prey Density Digestion Rate Larval Diet Copepod Biomass 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This research was supported by the Conselho Nacional of Desenvolvimento Científico (CNPq/Brazil), which provided Figueiredo GM with a Ph.D. fellowship. We are grateful to the crew of RV “Roagan” who helped in the sampling program and to three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.


  1. Blaxter JHS, Ehrlich KF (1974) Changes in behaviour during starvation of herring and plaice larvae. In: Blaxter JHS (ed) The early life history of fish. Spring-Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp575–588CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bowers AB, Williamson DI (1951) Food of larval and early post-larval stages of autumn-spawned herring in Manx waters. Rep Mar Biol Stn Port Erin 63:17–26Google Scholar
  3. Brander KM, Dickson RR (1984) An investigation of the low level of fish production in the Irish Sea. Rapp P -v Réun Cons int Explor Mer 183:234–282Google Scholar
  4. Conway DVP, Tranter PRG, Coombs SH (1993) Digestion of natural food by larval and post-larval turbot Scophthalmus maximus. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 100:221–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Coombs SH, Nichols JH, Conway DVP, Milligan S, Halliday NC (1992) Food availability for sprat larvae in the Irish Sea. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 72:821–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cushing DH (1990) Plankton production and year class strength in fish populations: an update of the match/mismatch hypothesis. Adv Mar Biol 26:249–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dickey-Collas M, Gowen RJ, Fox CJ (1996) Distribution of larval and juvenile fish in the western Irish Sea: relationship to phytoplankton, zooplankton biomass and recurrent physical features. Mar Freshwater Res 47:169–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Edwards ES, Burkill PH (1995) Abundance, biomass and distribution of microzooplankton in the Irish Sea. J Plankton Res 17:771–782CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Figueiredo GM (2003) The trophodynamics of the plankton in the coastal areas of the central Irish Sea, with emphasis on fish larvae and their prey. Ph.D. thesis, University of Liverpool, LiverpoolGoogle Scholar
  10. Fortier L, Harris RP (1989) Optimal foraging and density-dependent competition in marine fish larvae. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 51:19–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fortier L, Ponton D, Gilbert M (1995) The match/mismatch hypothesis and the feeding success of fish larvae in ice-covered southeastern Hudson Bay. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 120:11–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fukami K, Watanabe A, Fujita S, Yamaoka K, Nishijima T (1999) Predation on naked protozoan microzooplankton by fish larvae. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 185:285–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gerking SD (1994) Feeding ecology of fish. Academic Press, Inc., San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  14. Govoni JJ, Ortner PB, Al-Yamani F, Hill LC (1986) Selective feeding of spot, Leiostomus xanthurus, and Atlantic croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, larvae in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 28:175–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gowen RJ, McCullough G, Dickey-Collas M, Kleppel GS (1998) Copepod abundance in the western Irish Sea: relationship to physical regime, phytoplankton production and standing stock. J Plankton Res 20:315–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gray CA, Kingsford MJ (2003) Variability in thermocline depth and strength, and relationships with vertical distribution of fish larvae and mesozooplankton in dynamic coastal waters. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 247:211–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Greene CH (1990) A brief review and critique of zooplankton sampling methods: copepodology for the larval ecologist. Ophelia 32:109–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hasle GR (1978) The inverted microscope method. In: Sournia A (ed) Phytoplankton Manual. UNESCO, Paris, pp88–96Google Scholar
  19. Hay DE (1981) Effects of capture and fixation on gut contents and body size of Pacific herring larvae. Rapp P-v Réun Cons int Explor Mer 178:395–400Google Scholar
  20. Heath MR (1992) Field investigations of the early life stages of marine fish. Adv Mar Biol 28:1–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hopcroft RR, Roff JC, Lombard D (1998) Production of tropical copepods in Kingston Harbour, Jamaica: the importance of small species. Mar Biol 130:593–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hunt von Herbing I, Gallager SM (2000) Foraging behaviour in early Atlantic cod larvae (Gadus morhua) feeding on protozoan (Balanion sp.) and a copepod nauplius (Pseudodiaptomus sp.). Mar Biol 136:591–602CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hunt von Herbing I, Gallager SM, Halteman W (2001) Metabolic costs of pursuit and attack in early larval Atlantic cod. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 216:201–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jenkins GP (1988) Micro- and fine-scale distribution of microplankton in the feeding environment of larval flounder. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 43:233–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kankaala P, Johansson S (1986) The influence of individual variation on length-biomass regressions in three crustacean zooplankton species. J Plankton Res 8:1027–1038CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kiørboe T, Nielsen TG (1994) Regulation of zooplankton biomass and production in a temperate coastal ecosystem. 1. Copepods. Limnol Oceanogr 39:493–507CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kiørboe T, Mohlenberg F, Riisgard HU (1985) in situ feeding rates of planktonic copepods: a comparison of four methods. J Exp Biol Ecol 88:67–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Knutsen T, Melle W, Calise L (2001) Determining the mass density of marine copepods and their eggs with a critical focus on some of the previously used methods. J Plankton Res 23:859–873CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Leggett WC, Deblois E (1994) Recruitment in marine fishes: Is it regulated by starvation and predation in the egg and larval stages? Neth J Sea Res 32:119–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Leising AW, Franks PJS (1999) Larval Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) growth on Georges Bank: a model with temperature, prey size, and turbulence forcing. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 56:25–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Letcher BH, Rice JA (1997) Prey patchiness and larval fish growth and survival: inferences from an individual-based model. Ecol Model 95:29–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lough RG, Mountain DG (1996) Effect of small-scale turbulence on feeding rates of larval cod and haddock in stratified water on Georges Bank. Deep-Sea Res II 43:1745–1772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. MacKenzie BR, Leggett WC, Peters RH (1990) Estimating larval fish ingestion rates: can laboratory derived values be reliably extrapolated to the wild? Mar Ecol Prog Ser 67:209–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. May RC (1974) Larval mortality in marine fishes and the critical period concept. In: Blaxter JHS (ed) The early life history of fish. Spring-Verlag, New York, pp3–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McGurk MD, Paul AJ, Coyle KO, Ziemann DA, Haldorson LJ (1993) Relationships between prey concentration and growth, condition and mortality of Pacific herring, C. pallasi, larvae in an Alaskan subarctic embayment. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 50:163–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Menden-Deuer S, Lessard EJ (2000) Carbon to volume relationships for dinoflagellates, diatoms and other protist plankton. Limnol Oceanogr 45:569–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Munk P, Kiørboe T (1985) Feeding behaviour and swimming activity of larval herring (C. harengus) in relation to density of copepod nauplii. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 24:15–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Munk P, Nielsen TG (1994) Trophodynamics of the plankton community at Dogger bank: Predatory impact by larval fish. J Plankton Res 16:1225–1245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Nagano N, Iwatsuki Y, Kamiyama T, Nakata H (2000) Effects of marine ciliates on survivability of the first-feeding larval surgeonfish, Paracanthurus hepatus: laboratory rearing experiments. Hydrobiologia 432:149–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nash RDM, Dickey-Collas M, Milligan SP (1998) Descriptions of the Gulf VII/Pro-net and MAFF/Guildline unencased high-speed plankton samplers. J Plankton Res 20:1915–1926CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Nicholas, KR (1995) Secondary production of coastal plankton communities in the western Irish Sea. Ph.D. thesis, University of Liverpool, LiverpoolGoogle Scholar
  42. Nielsen TG, Sabatini M (1996) Role of cyclopoid copepods Oithona spp. in North Sea plankton communities. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 139:79–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ohman MD, Theilacker GH, Kaupp SE (1991) Immunochemical detection of predation on ciliate protists by larvae of the northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax). Biol Bull 181:500–504CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Owen RW (1989) Microscale and finescale variation of small plankton in coastal and pelagic environments. J Mar Res 47:197–240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pandian TJ, Vivekanandan E (1985) Energetics of feeding and digestion. In: Tytler P, Calow P (eds) Fish energetics: New perspectives. Croom Helm, Sydney, pp99–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Pepin P, Penney RW (2000) Feeding by a larval fish community: impact on zooplankton. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 204:199–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pingree RD, Griffiths DK (1978) Tidal fronts on the shelf seas around British Isles. J Geophys Res 83:4615–4622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Postel L, Fock H, Hagen W (2000) Biomass and abundance. In: Harris RP, Wiebe PH, Lenz J, Skjoldal HR, Huntley M (eds) Zooplankton methodology manual. Academic Press, London, pp83–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Prestidge MC, Taylor AH (1995) A modelling investigation of the distribution of stratification and phytoplankton abundance in the Irish Sea. J Plankton Res 17:1397–1420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sanders RW, Wickham SA (1993) Planktonic protozoa and metazoa: predation, food quality and population control. Mar Microb Food Webs 7:197–223Google Scholar
  51. Sato R, Tanaka Y, Ishimaru T (2001) House production by Oikopleura dioica (Tunicata, Appendicularia) under laboratory conditions. J Plankton Res 23:415–423CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Scrope-Howe S, Jones DA (1985) Biological studies in the vicinity of a shallow-sea tidal mixing front v. composition, abundance and distribution of zooplankton in the western Irish Sea, April 1980 to November 1981. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 310:501–519CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Simpson JH, Edelsten DJ, Edwards A, Morris NCG, Tett PB (1979) The Islay front: physical structure and phytoplankton distribution. Estuar Coast Mar Sci 9:713–726CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Thompson AB, Harrop RT (1991) Feeding dynamics of fish larvae on copepod in the western Irish Sea, with particular reference to cod Gadus morhua. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 68:213–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Uitto A, Heiskanen A-S, Lignell R, Autio R, Pajuniemi R (1997) Summer dynamics of the coastal planktonic food web in the northern Baltic Sea. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 151:27–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Van der Meeren T, Næss T (1993) How does cod (Gadus morhua) cope with variability in feeding conditions during early larval stages? Mar Biol 116:637–647CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gisela M. de Figueiredo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Richard D. M. Nash
    • 1
    • 3
  • David J. S. Montagnes
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Port Erin Marine LaboratoryUniversity of LiverpoolPort Erin, Isle of ManUK
  2. 2.Laboratório de Ciências MarinhasUniversidade do Sul de Santa CatarinaLagunaBrazil
  3. 3.Institute of Marine ResearchBergenNorway
  4. 4.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK

Personalised recommendations