Dietary fatty acid profiles shape crayfish biosynthesis and performance: Implications for riverine food webs

Paul J. McInerney, Rick J. Stoffels, Michael E. Shackleton, Chris D. Davey, Jenessa Albert, Gavin N. Rees

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Alteration of riverine flows can modify the structure and function of ecosystems, changing energy pathways and patterns of micronutrient transfer between trophic levels. Fatty acids (FAs) commonly are used to evaluate food quality, since some FAs required for somatic growth and physiological functions in animals must be obtained from their diet. FAs also are used in food-web studies as biotracers as a consequence of their constrained metabolic biosynthesis by animals. However, their utility may be confounded by selective retention or modification of dietary FAs by consumers. We conducted a 70-day feeding trial to compare growth and survival of an abundant and widespread mesoconsumer (Cherax destructor, the common yabby or crayfish) fed three contrasting diets: a poor-quality detritus-based diet; a high protein invertebrate diet; and a high-quality commercial aquaculture pellet. Fatty acid profiles were obtained for each dietary treatment and contrasted with crayfish FA profiles at the end of the experiment to examine patterns of FA retention and integration. We also collected wild crayfish from floodplain wetland and river habitats, and obtained FA profiles from their stomach contents and body tissue to compare with experimental crayfish. Experimental crayfish fed high-quality commercial pellets doubled in mass during the 70-day assay, invertebrate fed crayfish growth was intermediate, and growth of crayfish fed detritus was negligible. Fatty acid profiles of crayfish fed our three contrasting diets differed significantly at the end of the experiment. Proportions of the polyunsaturated omega-6 FA linoleic acid (LIN, 18:2ω6) in crayfish followed the same inequality observed in growth and diets: pellets > invertebrates > detritus. Pellet-fed crayfish preferentially assimilated greater proportions of FAs 20:4ω6 (ARA), 20:5ω3 (EPA) 18:1ω9 (OA) and 16:1ω7 (POA) into their tissue. Fatty acid profiles of floodplain crayfish differed to profiles of riverine crayfish, and floodplain crayfish had higher proportions of essential FAs ARA and LIN in their tissues. Fatty acid biosynthesis by crayfish was best described by a hypothesis of FA allostasis rather than homeostasis; in this, FA profiles of crayfish were shaped by their diet, and selective integration and modification of high-quality FAs from basal resources rich in these micronutrients led to higher proportions in crayfish tissues. Here we present evidence for the conversion of shorter-chain essential FAs by freshwater crayfish to compensate for a lack of long-chain FAs in their diet. We provide a necessary step for improving our understanding of micronutrient dynamics and the transfer of essential molecules between trophic levels in lowland river food webs. Floodplain habitats are known to provide higher-quality basal food resources for mesoconsumers than riverine habitats, and here we identify one mechanism by which that may be extended to subsequent trophic levels.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)978-990
Number of pages13
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number6
Early online dateMar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


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