Endangered eel larvae make a tasty treat for fish in an ocean desert

Science | AAAS | 8/14/2018 | Staff
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European eels, besides being delicious, have mystified biologists for more than a century. They spend their adult lives in estuaries and rivers, and head to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda to reproduce. Their tiny transparent larvae then hitch a ride back to Europe on the Gulf Stream. But eel populations have been mysteriously dropping, prompting desperate measures to replenish their numbers.

Now, researchers have a clue about one peril young eels face during their journey: hungry fish. The larvae were once considered too difficult for most predators to spot and catch, but a new study that looks at DNA traces in the guts of fish near eel-breeding waters suggests at least six marine species can make quick work of baby eels.

Study - Eel - Larvae - Predators - Food

“The study shows that although eel larvae are likely difficult for predators to see, they do contribute to ocean food webs as prey for other species,” says Michael Miller, an eel expert at Nihon University in Fujisawa, Japan, who was not involved with the work.

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The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) was once quite common, but its numbers have declined precipitously in the past 45 years. Moreover, the number of larvae that finally make it to Europe as “glass eels” has dropped by 90%, leaving some to wonder what might be happening to the larvae. Was something eating them up?

Eel - Size - Willow - Guts - Fish

That didn’t seem likely. Eel larvae—which are about the size of a small willow leaf—had been detected only once, in the late 1800s, in the guts of other fish. It could also be that, once swallowed, they decayed so quickly that they disappeared without a trace. Intact, the eels are still difficult to find, “even in a tray of water,” says study co-author Mads Reinholdt Jensen, now a graduate student...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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