Coping with the cold: energy storage strategies for surviving winter in freshwater fish

12 July 2019

Fernandes, Timothy; McMeans, Bailey

For many ectothermic animals, the acquisition, storage, and depletion of lipids is integral to successfully coping with reduced metabolic rates and activity levels associated with cold, winter periods. In fish, lipids are crucial for overwinter survival and successful reproduction. The timing and magnitude of seasonal lipid storage should therefore vary predictably among fish with different thermal preferences and spawn times. Small- and large-bodied fish should also face different constraints associated with season that influence lipid cycling. However, much work to date has been species- and location-specific and a general conceptual model for the seasonal energy budgets of freshwater fish is lacking. Here, we conducted a comprehensive literature review of seasonal lipid levels in freshwater fishes. We predicted that warm and cool water species would be more likely to demonstrate peak lipid levels during warm months than cold water species, and expected a larger magnitude of annual lipid cycling in warm and cool water compared to cold water fish. We also expected dampened lipid cycling in larger fish due to their lower mass-specific metabolic rates. Observed patterns in the timing and magnitude of lipid storage contradicted our prediction because lipid cycling was widespread across species, despite thermal guild, with peak lipid levels commonly occurring during warmer months, even in cold water fish. For body size effects, larger bodied fish species had dampened seasonal lipid cycling, as predicted. We developed a conceptual framework describing how the ‘scope’ for variation in annual lipid cycling changes with body size both among and within species in order to guide future work. Together, our findings suggest that energy acquired during warm months is broadly important for overwinter survival and reproduction in fishes, and provide a new perspective on the differential constraints and physiological responses to seasonality among freshwater fish.

Doi
10.1111/ecog.04386