The transition from marine to fresh water is a challenging task for juvenile eels. This critical step in the early eels' life is preceded by a metamorphosis from the oceanic larval to the continental glass eel stage, requiring major energy-demanding morphological, physiological and behavioural modifications during which time these animals do not feed. The success of the glass eels? inland migration after metamorphosis will largely depend on remaining energy levels, which can be supplemented only by resuming food uptake. Although it is crucial for their survival and the maintenance of the population, the feeding behaviour of glass eels is still an understudied aspect of the eels? complex life cycle. Many uncertainties about the phenology, diet, potential prey preferences and their relation with migration modus (migratory vs. sedentary) still remain. In this study, the authors analysed the stomach and gut contents of 458 European glass eels (Anguilla anguilla L. 1758) captured in a drainage canal connecting a small mesotidal estuary with an adjacent polder area during the spring migration seasons of 2016 and 2017. They demonstrated that although glass eels started feeding briefly upon arrival in the estuary, food uptake for early arrivals was restricted to a minority that sparsely feed on detritus and some worm-like benthic invertebrates. Along the season, food uptake intensified eventually engaging all glass eels and their dietary palette diversified including a wide array of planktonic and benthic organisms. Crustacean plankton (mainly cyclopoid copepods) was an important part of the glass eel diet, whereas benthic oligochaetes were less abundant as food source in spite of their high presence in the sediments. No clear differences in feeding behaviour could be observed between migratory and sedentary glass eels. This study showed that glass eels can use highly artificial and dynamic drainage canals as feeding ground during their critical marine/freshwater transition. This outcome is also a plea to improve the accessibility of alternative (unnatural) migration routes between the ocean and suitable freshwater growth habitats for the European eel.
Thematic List 2020