The role of a freshwater tidal area with controlled reduced tide as feeding habitat for European eel (**Anguilla anguilla**, L.)
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Journal of applied ichthyology. - Hamburg
, p. 572-581
University of Antwerp
Implementation of the Controlled Reduced Tide (CRT) technique could increase the total surface of tidal freshwater marshes in Europe and ease implementation of restoration projects in coastal defense and riverine ecosystems. The goal was to determine whether a regularly flooded area connected to a freshwater tidal river could act as an important foraging area for European eel, and if so, to what extent the diet of eels in this flooding area differed from that of eels foraging in the river itself. The stomach contents of eels from the River Schelde were compared with eels from the Lippenbroek, an adjacent CRT area. Prey diversity (H′) of individual eels was about four times higher in the Lippenbroek than in the River Schelde. Moreover, 12 prey categories in eel stomachs from the Lippenbroek were found whereas only three categories were retrieved from eels in the River Schelde. In the Lippenbroek, eels fed on terrestrial organisms (lumbricids, caterpillars and other insects), but also on fish and fish eggs and to a lesser extent on other aquatic prey (Lumbricullidae, chironomids and Hirudinea). In contrast, eels from the main river fed mainly on tubificids, fish, and some gammarids. Consequently, eels in the Schelde estuary are opportunistic feeders, but with a preference for large benthic prey. The number and weight of aquatic organisms ingested by eels in the Lippenbroek is not significantly different from the River Schelde. However, eels foraging in the Lippenbroek area had consumed significantly more terrestrial prey. Furthermore the total caloric value estimated for the ingested prey of eels from the Lippenbroek (derived from the literature) was about twice as high as that for eels from the River Schelde. While the condition index remained inconclusive, an Ancova revealed that eels captured in the Lippenbroek were significantly heavier for a given length than eels captured in the Schelde. The study showed that with a controlled reduced tide to restore lateral connectivity of large tidal rivers with their adjacent floodplains, high quality habitats for the European eel are created. These measures could significantly contribute to the production of eels in better condition, which have better chances to reproduce successfully. Hence, wetland restoration could enhance the recovery of the European eel stocks.