First feed matters: The first diet of larval fish programmes growth, survival, and metabolism of larval ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta)

Arne M. Malzahn*, Deni Ribičić, Bjørn Henrik Hansen, Antonio Sarno, Elin Kjørsvik, Anna Sigrid Norberg Aase, Luciana Alves Musialak, Laura García-Calvo, Andreas Hagemann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The use of cleaner fish, such as the ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta), is important for combatting the sea lice problem in salmonid cage farming. Ballan wrasse is the only wrasse species that is cultivated, though only about 50% of the approx. 3 million ballan wrasse used in 2020 was produced by aquaculture. The major obstacle for large scale cultivation of ballan wrasse is the difficult first feeding phase and a lack of functional feeding protocols. Like most pelagic marine fish larvae, ballan wrasse do not accept inert diets as first feed, and feeding regimes based on rotifers and Artemia (brine shrimps) usually lead to mixed results and are far from being optimal nutrition for the larvae. In a 48-day start feeding experiment, we studied the feasibility of replacing rotifers by an Experimental cirriped diet or copepod nauplii (Acartia tonsa) and replacing Artemia by nauplii of the cirriped Semibalanus balanoides. Later, all treatments received the same formulated diets. We sampled larvae at each feed transition to analyze different response variables such as growth, morphometry, gene expression, lipidomics, histology, and microbiology. We found significant differences in survival rates and growth. Larvae fed copepods as the first diet had significantly higher survival rates than larvae start-fed on either rotifers or small experimental cirripeds, and this pattern was also reflected in early growth and bone development. Gut histology at the end of the experiment (48 days after hatching) showed a more developed intestinal tissue in the larval group fed copepods first and cirripeds as the second diet compared to the other larval groups. Gene expression at day 48 post hatch still revealed pronounced differences between the larval group first fed on rotifers and larvae from the other three feeding regimes which received natural, unenriched diets. Even weeks after receiving the same formulated diets, lipidomics analyses revealed that several lipid species correlated either negatively or positively with larval growth rates or mortality. Our results are a clear indication for nutritional programming, pointing towards the importance the first diet has for the further life of a fish.

Original languageEnglish
Article number738586
Publication statusPublished - Dec 15 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Cleaner fish
  • Fish health
  • Gene expression
  • Lipidomics
  • Nutritional programming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science


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