Aquaculture International

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 87–105 | Cite as

Uptake of nitrogen from natural food into fish in differently managed polyculture ponds using 15N as tracer

  • Johannes Pucher
  • Ulfert Focken


Food security in Asia depends significantly on small-scale pond aquaculture in which fish feed on external feeds and natural food resources. Little is known about the assimilation of natural food resources into fish. In order to elucidate the food web and nitrogen flows in a traditionally and a semi-intensively managed pond in Vietnam, δ13C and δ15N in pond inputs and fish were measured before and after the application of inorganic 15N at 1.1 and 0.4 % of total nitrogen. The applied 15N was traced through the biomass of stocked fish over 30 days. Under traditional management, grass carp was the dominant species in number and biomass. After 30 days, grass carp assimilated 1.2 % of the applied tracer through natural food resources. Filter feeders assimilated only 0.1–0.3 % of the tracer after 30 days because of the limited productivity in the traditionally managed pond. Nile tilapia showed the highest uptake rates over the 30 days, which demonstrated their ability to feed on a variety of natural food resources. In total, 2.6 % of the applied 15N was assimilated into fish biomass after 30 days. Under semi-intensive management, common carp was the main species numerically and assimilated 1.8 % of the tracer after 30 days. Grass carp was stocked at lower density, but had the highest biomass by the time of the experiment. Grass carp assimilated 0.2 % of the applied tracer suggesting a low contribution of natural food resources to its nutrition. Silver carp benefited most from the higher natural food resources. In total, 4.1 % of applied 15N was assimilated into fish biomass after 30 days. Traditional small-scale aquaculture of a grass carp-dominated polyculture has a lower assimilation efficiency of applied fertilizers into fish biomass than a common carp-dominated polyculture under semi-intensive management.


Nitrogen efficiency Polyculture Feed utilization Stable isotopes Natural food resources Semi-intensive aquaculture 



Lighter stable carbon isotope


Heavier stable carbon isotope


Lighter stable nitrogen isotope


Heavier stable nitrogen isotope


Atom percentage


Carbon fixation pathway via 3-phosphoglycerate


Carbon fixation pathway via oxaloacetate


A measure of the ratio of stable isotopes 13C:12C, in relation to a standard (Vienna Pee Dee Bee), reported in ‰


A measure of the ratio of stable isotopes 13N:12N, in relation to a standard (air), reported in ‰


Dry matter


Total carbon


Total nitrogen



This study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and was performed under the umbrella of the Uplands Program (SFB 564) as part of a close collaboration between the University of Hohenheim (Germany) and the Hanoi University of Agriculture (Vietnam). Special thank goes to Dr Peter Lawrence for his support in the language editing of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Aquaculture Systems and Animal Nutrition in the Tropics and SubtropicsUniversity of HohenheimStuttgartGermany
  2. 2.Thuenen-Institute of Fisheries EcologyAhrensburgGermany
  3. 3.Work Group Animal Husbandry, Aquaculture and Reference MaterialsFederal Institute for Risk AssessmentBerlinGermany

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