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Heritability of cortisol response to confinement stress in European sea bass dicentrarchus labrax

Filip AM Volckaert1, Bart Hellemans1, Costas Batargias2, Bruno Louro3, Cécile Massault45, Jeroen KJ Van Houdt17, Chris Haley4, Dirk-Jan de Koning46 and Adelino VM Canario3*

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratory of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Genomics, KU Leuven, Ch. Deberiotstraat 32, B-3000, Leuven, Belgium

2 Laboratory of Applied Fish Genetics and Fish Breeding, Department of Aquaculture & Fisheries Management, Technological Educational Institute of Messolonghi, Nea Ktiria, 30200, Messolonghi, Greece

3 Centre of Marine Sciences (CCMAR), University of Algarve, Gambelas, P-8005-139, Faro, Portugal

4 Division of Genetics and Genomics, Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Roslin, Midlothian, EH25 9PS, Edinburgh, UK

5 Animal Breeding and Genetics Group, Wageningen University, Postbox 338, NL-6700AH, Wageningen, The Netherlands

6 Current address: Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 750 07, Uppsala, Sweden

7 Current address: Laboratory for Cytogenetics and Genome Research, KU Leuven, Herestraat 49, B-3000, Leuven, Belgium

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Genetics Selection Evolution 2012, 44:15  doi:10.1186/1297-9686-44-15

Published: 20 April 2012



In fish, the most studied production traits in terms of heritability are body weight or growth, stress or disease resistance, while heritability of cortisol levels, widely used as a measure of response to stress, is less studied. In this study, we have estimated heritabilities of two growth traits (body weight and length) and of cortisol response to confinement stress in the European sea bass.


The F1 progeny analysed (n = 922) belonged to a small effective breeding population with contributions from an unbalanced family structure of just 10 males and 2 females. Heritability values ranged from 0.54 (±0.21) for body weight to 0.65 (±0.22) for standard body length and were low for cortisol response i.e. 0.08 (±0.06). Genetic correlations were positive (0.94) between standard body length and body weight and negative between cortisol and body weight and between cortisol and standard body length (−0.60 and −0.55, respectively).


This study confirms that in European sea bass, heritability of growth-related traits is high and that selection on such traits has potential. However, heritability of cortisol response to stress is low in European sea bass and since it is known to vary greatly among species, further studies are necessary to understand the reasons for these differences.