Aquatic Sciences

, 71:463 | Cite as

Immune deficiency causes annual late summer brown trout (Salmo trutta) mortality in Austrian prealpine river systems

  • Franz LahnsteinerEmail author
  • Reinhard Haunschmid
  • Nabil Mansour
Research Article


For several years, severe brown trout (Salmo trutta) mortality has been observed in different prealpine river systems of Austria, Southern Germany, and Switzerland during late summer and early autumn. Often, the skin of the effected fish shows a medium to intense black pigmentation, and therefore this phenomenon is called “Schwarze Bachforelle Phänomen” or “proliferative darkening syndrom”. The present study was conducted to gain insight about its presence. From middle of May to end of August, brown trout and rainbow trout were kept in experimental tanks supplied with water from an effected river system. In brown trout, samples for blood diagnostics and histological investigations were taken after 0, 47, 62, and 77 days, and in rainbow trout after 0 and 107 days. Brown trout from a wild population were investigated for comparative purposes. Brown trout showed no abnormalities till the end of June. All fish sampled in the second half of July suffered from severe immune deficiency as the numbers of peripheral blood granulocytes and lymphocytes, plasma lysozyme activity, and plasma immunoglobulin levels significantly decreased. During August, the number of erythrocytes decreased and the osmotic fragility of the erythrocytes increased. Senescent erythrocytes became more frequent and the hematopoietic tissue of spleen and kidney enlarged. Also, the cellular composition of the spleen changed as the number of hemoblasts and normal erythroblasts decreased while the number of atypical erythroblasts increased. In the pronephros and hematopoietic tissue of the mesonephros, aggregation of macrophages and tissue disintegration was frequently observed. This was similar for brown trout from the field experiment and from the wild population. High mortality occurred in the end of July and during August. Death of the fishes might have been caused by secondary infections with microorganisms. Almost similar changes were observed in rainbow trout, however, the mortality was lower.


Brown trout Rainbow trout Mortality Immunity Lymphocytes Granulocytes Immunoglobulin Lysozyme 



The project was funded by the “Oberösterreicher Landesfischereiverband” and by the “Amt der Oberösterreichischen Landesregierung”. We are grateful to Dipl. Ing. Stefan Keil, the head of the sewage plant of Bad Ischl and to his team for the generous support and help in our field studies. Support also came from the fish farm of Kreuzstein and from Mr. Alfred Ungar in providing material.


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Switzerland 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Franz Lahnsteiner
    • 1
    Email author
  • Reinhard Haunschmid
    • 2
  • Nabil Mansour
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Organismic BiologyUniversity of SalzburgSalzburgAustria
  2. 2.Bundesamt für WasserwirtschaftInstitut für Gewässerökologie, Fischereibiologie und SeenkundeMondseeAustria

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