Liver Lipid Accumulation in European Bullhead (Cottus cobio) from a High-Mountain Lake: An Adaptive Strategy to Survive the Adverse Winter Season
The hypothesis that liver lipid accumulation in fish is an adaptive strategy to survive the winter in the high-altitude environment was assessed in this study. During summer 2019, specimens of Cottus gobio were sampled in 15 watercourses of Friuli Venezia-Giulia Region (Italy) to verify if hepatic steatosis is or not normally present in the species. To do this, hepatic vacuolization was assessed by histology using a semiquantitative score. Furthermore, C. gobio were also captured during the
... ured during the ice-free season at Dimon Lake (1872 m a.s.l.) and But Stream (520 m a.s.l.) to compare the trend in lipid accumulation: water temperature, hepatosomatic index (HSI), gonadosomatic index (GSI), Fulton's condition factor (K), and lipid area percentage (lipid %) were measured monthly. Findings revealed that liver steatosis is rather common in C. gobio. However, the trend in lipid accumulation of this species differed between Dimon Lake and But Stream. Based on the HSI and the GSI, the reproductive cycles differed in fish from the two environments (April–May in But Stream; May–June in Dimon Lake). While K values remained unchanged in the But Stream specimens, significant changes were recorded for Dimon specimens. The increase in lipid % from July to August in the Dimon Lake specimens coincided with greater food availability. With the rapid drop in lake water temperature in October, the lipid % decreased due to slower metabolic rate and lipid utilization from liver stores. There was a slight decrease in lipid % in the But Stream specimens, indicating that lipids were not being accumulated. Introduced years ago, the Dimon Lake bullhead population has since adapted to the winter conditions at high elevation.