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Linking omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in natural diet with brain size of wild consumers


Omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 LC-PUFA) are key structural lipids and their dietary intake is essential for brain development of virtually all vertebrates. The importance of n-3 LC-PUFA has been demonstrated in clinical and laboratory studies, but little is known about how differences in the availability of n-3 LC-PUFA in natural prey influence brain development of wild consumers. Consumers foraging at the interface of aquatic and terrestrial food webs can differ substantially in their intake of n-3 LC-PUFA, which may lead to differences in brain development, yet this hypothesis remains to be tested. Here we use the previously demonstrated shift towards higher reliance on n-3 LC-PUFA deprived terrestrial prey of native brown trout Salmo trutta living in sympatry with invasive brook trout Salvelinus fontinalis to explore this hypothesis. We found that the content of n-3 LC-PUFA in muscle tissues of brown trout decreased with increasing consumption of n-3 LC-PUFA deprived terrestrial prey. Brain volume was positively related to the content of the n-3 LC-PUFA, docosahexaenoic acid, in muscle tissues of brown trout. Our study thus suggests that increased reliance on diets low in n-3 LC-PUFA, such as terrestrial subsidies, can have a significant negative impact on brain development of wild trout. Our findings provide the first evidence of how brains of wild vertebrate consumers response to scarcity of n-3 LC-PUFA content in natural prey.

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The authors are grateful to Samuel-Karl Kämmer, Katharina Winter, and Niklas Wengström for their assistance with collection and processing of samples.


This study was funded by the Austrian Science Fund, FWF, Lise Meitner Program (Project M 2742-BBL), and Carl Tryggers foundation (CT 16:221).

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Authors and Affiliations



LZ, JH, and MJK conceived and designed the experiments. LZ and MLW performed the experiments with contribution of MJK and JH. LZ analysed the data. LZ wrote the manuscript; other authors provided editorial advice.

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Correspondence to Libor Závorka.

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The authors have no conflict of interests to declare.

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These experiments were approved by the Ethical Committee for Animal Research in Göteborg (license dnr 5.8.18-04106/2018) and comply with current laws in Sweden.

Additional information

Communicated by Donovan P German.

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Závorka, L., Wallerius, M.L., Kainz, M.J. et al. Linking omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in natural diet with brain size of wild consumers. Oecologia 199, 797–807 (2022).

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