Diverse migration strategy between freshwater and seawater habitats in the freshwater eel genus Anguilla


  • T. Arai,

    Corresponding author
    1. International Coastal Research Center, Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, 2-106-1 Akahama, Otsuchi, Iwate 028-1102, Japan
    2. Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 UPM Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia
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  • N. Chino

    1. International Coastal Research Center, Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, 2-106-1 Akahama, Otsuchi, Iwate 028-1102, Japan
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Tel.: +60 8946 6633; email: arai@science.upm.edu.my


The freshwater eels of the genus Anguilla, which are catadromous, migrate between freshwater growth habitats and offshore spawning areas. A number of recent studies, however, found examples of the temperate species Anguilla anguilla, Anguilla rostrata, Anguilla japonica, Anguilla australis and Anguilla dieffenbachii that have never migrated into fresh water, spending their entire life history in the ocean. Furthermore, those studies found an intermediate type between marine and freshwater residents, which appear to frequently move between different environments during their growth phase. The discovery of marine and brackish-water residents Anguilla spp. suggests that they do not all have to be catadromous, and it calls into question the generalized classification of diadromous fishes. There has been little available information, however, concerning migration in tropical Anguilla spp. Anguilla marmorata, shows three fluctuation patterns: (1) continuous residence in fresh water, (2) continuous residence in brackish water and (3) residence in fresh water after recruitment, while returning to brackish water. Such migratory patterns were found in other tropical species, Anguilla bicolor bicolor and Anguilla bicolor pacifica. In A. b. bicolor collected in a coastal lagoon of Indonesia, two further patterns of habitat use were found: (1) constantly living in either brackish water or sea water with no freshwater life and (2) habitat shift from fresh water to brackish water or sea water. The wide range of environmental habitat use indicates that migratory behaviour of tropical Anguilla spp. is facultative among fresh, brackish and marine waters during their growth phases after recruitment to the coastal areas. Further, the migratory behaviours of tropical Anguilla spp. appear to differ in each habitat in response to inter and intra-specific competition. The results suggest that tropical Anguilla spp. have a flexible pattern of migration, with an ability to adapt to various habitats and salinities. The ability of anguillids to reside in environments of various salinities would be a common feature between tropical and temperate species without a latitudinal cline. Thus, the migration of Anguilla spp. into fresh water is clearly not an obligatory behaviour. This evidence of geographical variability among Anguilla spp. suggests that habitat use is determined by environmental conditions in each site.