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Burrowing behaviour of the European eel (Anguilla anguilla): effects of life stage
Steendam, C.; Verhelst, P.; Van Wassenbergh, S.; De Meyer, J. (2020). Burrowing behaviour of the European eel (Anguilla anguilla): effects of life stage. J. Fish Biol. 97(5): 1332-1342.
In: Journal of Fish Biology. Fisheries Society of the British Isles: London,New York,. ISSN 0022-1112; e-ISSN 1095-8649, more
Peer reviewed article  

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    Anguilla anguilla (Linnaeus, 1758) [WoRMS]
Author keywords
    behaviour; burrow; European eel; kinematics; sediment

Authors  Top 
  • Steendam, C., more
  • Verhelst, P., more
  • Van Wassenbergh, S., more
  • De Meyer, J., more

    The European eel (Anguilla anguilla) is a fascinating species, exhibiting a complex life cycle. The species is, however, listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List due to an amalgam of factors, including habitat loss. This study investigated the burrowing behaviour and substrate preference of glass, elver and yellow stages of A. anguilla. Preference was determined by introducing eels in aquaria with different substrates and evaluating the chosen substrate for burrowing. In addition, burrowing was recorded using a camera in all substrate types and analysed for kinematics. The experiments showed that all of these life stages sought refuge in the sediments with particle sizes ranging from sand to coarse gravel. Starting from a resting position, they shook their head horizontally in combination with rapid body undulations until half of their body was within the substrate. High-speed X-ray videography revealed that once partly in the sediment, eels used only horizontal head sweeps to penetrate further, without the use of their tail. Of the substrates tested, burrowing performance was highest in fine gravel (diameter 1–2 mm; lower burrowing duration, less body movements and/or lower frequency of movements), and all eels readily selected this substrate for burrowing. However, glass eels and elvers were able to use coarse gravel (diameter >8 mm) because their smaller size allowed manoeuvring through the spaces between the grains. Further, burrowing performance increased with body size: glass eels required more body undulations compared to yellow eels. Interestingly, the urge to hide within the sediment was highest for glass eels and elvers. Documentation of substrate preference and burrowing behaviour of A. anguilla provides new information about their potential habitat use. Considering that habitat alterations and deteriorations are partly responsible for the decline of the eel, this information can contribute to the development of more effective conservation measures.

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