Global assessment of the response to chronic stress in European sea bass

Welfare Plasticity Fish Osmoregulation Robustness Resilience


Stress modifies energy allocation in fishes by redirecting energy from growth and reproduction to coping mechanisms. However, these adjustments become inappropriate when the challenge consists of sustained or repeated stressors, with the animal entering a maladaptive state. Capacities to cope with additional threats are then altered and compromise survival. The characterization of the responses to chronic stress in fishes helps better understanding the physiological limits in an aquaculture or ecological context. Here, we investigate the coping capacities of European sea bass to multiple and diverse stressors applied over a 3-weeks period. Multiple behavioural (group dispersion and swimming activity) and physiological responses (blood cortisol, osmoregulatory mechanisms, stress-related gene expression, etc.) were evaluated in resting fish or in fish exposed to additional challenges. Resilience to the chronic stress protocol was evaluated 4 months after the end of the chronic stress. Chronically stressed individuals showed reduced growth, lower cortisol response, increased chloride and sodium concentration in the plasma and modified gill gene expression translating osmoregulatory dysfunctions. Chronic stress had no significant effect on plasmatic calcium, lysozyme concentration and osmotic pressure. Increased thigmotaxic behaviour was observed in a new environment behavioural test. Four months after the chronic stress, no significant difference was observed in growth performances and in plasma parameters. Altogether, gills and more generally osmoregulatory functions were found to be the most sensitive to the chronic stress, while only limited changes in growth, activity of the HPI axis, immunity and swimming behaviour were observed when assessed individually. This work demonstrates the necessity of using multiple and diverse endpoints related to different functions to properly assess health and welfare in fishes.