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Effects of genetics and early-life mild hypoxia on size variation in farmed gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata)


The present study evaluated, in an 18-month gilthead sea bream trial, the time course effects of genetics on individual size variation and growth compensation processes in families selected by heritable growth in the PROGENSA® breeding program. Families categorized as fast, intermediate, and slow growing had different growth trajectories with a more continuous growth in fast growth families. This feature was coincident with a reduced size variation at the beginning of the trial that clustered together the half-sib families sharing the same father. Regression analysis evidenced that the magnitude of compensatory growth was proportional to the initial size variation with no rescaling of families at this stage. By contrast, the finishing growth depensation process can mask, at least partially, the previous size convergence. This reflects the different contribution across the production cycle of genetics in growth. How early-life experiences affect growth compensation at juvenile stages was also evaluated in a separate cohort, and intriguingly, a first mild-hypoxia pulse at 60–81 days post-hatching (dph) increased survival rates by 10%, preventing growth impairment when fish were exposed to a second hypoxia episode (112–127 dph). The early hypoxia experience did not have a negative impact on growth compensatory processes at juvenile stages. By contrast, a diminished capacity for growth compensation was found with repeated or late hypoxia experiences. All this reinforces the use of size variation as a main criterion for improving intensive fish farming and selective breeding.

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All data are available in the manuscript and supplementary files.


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We acknowledge the support of the Animalarium Service of IATS (Félix Álvarez and José Ramón Mateos) during fish rearing and sampling. We thank Concepción Berbel (IFAPA Center El Toruño) and Juan Manuel Afonso (University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) for designing and conducting the broodstock crosses. The authors are grateful to Marta Arizcun and Elena Chaves (Oceanografic Center of Murcia) for raising fish larvae.

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This work was supported by the project Bream-AquaINTECH: From Nutrition and Genetics to Sea Bream Aquaculture Intensification and Technological Innovation, RTI2018-094128-B-I00. Additional funding was received from the EU project PerformFISH (Integrating Innovative Approaches for Competitive and Sustainable Performance across the Mediterranean Aquaculture Value Chain) (H2020-SFS-2016-2017; 727610). This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. PSM contract was funded by EU project PerformFISH. EP was funded by a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación, Reference IJCI-2016-27637) from MINECO.

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JPS coordinated and designed the study; EP, ERM, FNC, PSM, and JCG farmed fish from early-life stages to the end of trial and participated in all samplings; JPS, ERM, and EP analyzed the data; EP and JPS wrote the manuscript; all authors read, edited, and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jaume Pérez-Sánchez.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures were carried out according to IATS-CSIC Review Board, European (2010/63/EU) animal directives and Spanish laws (Royal Decree RD53/2013) on the handling of experimental animals.

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All authors review and approve the manuscript for publication.

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Perera, E., Rosell-Moll, E., Naya-Català, F. et al. Effects of genetics and early-life mild hypoxia on size variation in farmed gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata). Fish Physiol Biochem 47, 121–133 (2021).

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  • Size heterogeneity
  • Growth compensation
  • Early-life hypoxia
  • Selective breeding
  • Gilthead sea bream