The marbled spinefoot rabbitfish (Siganus rivulatus) is an economically valuable fish species that has potential for commercial production in aquaculture. To overcome challenges in its sustainable production, a formulated diet is required for imparting health and robustness. This study evaluates the effect of dietary supplementation with arachidonic acid (ARA; 20:4n-6) on growth, survival, immune function and fatty acid composition of red blood cells (RBCs) in rabbitfish. We conducted two feeding trials using juvenile fish (to evaluate growth and survival) and adults (to evaluate immune function and fatty acid incorporation). Fish were fed diets supplemented with three different levels of ARA (in % of total fatty acids): 0.6 (unsupplemented control), 2.6 (moderate) and 4.7 (high). The fish fed with moderate ARA levels exhibited improved (p < 0.05) growth over the control and the high ARA level groups. During an outbreak of Streptococcus iniae, fish fed with moderate ARA survived significantly (p < 0.05) better (89%) than the control and the high ARA groups (59% and 48%, respectively). Moderate ARA supplementation resulted in elevated lysozyme and complement levels in the plasma of rabbitfish. A significant increase in the total serum immunoglobulin levels was observed in both the medium and the high ARA level groups; however, a decrease in antiprotease activity was recorded in the supplemented groups as compared to the control.
Fatty acid analysis in fish red blood cells revealed a significant (p < 0.05) increase in the proportion of ARA of total fatty acids in the groups fed with the medium and the high ARA level diets (9.5% and 11.2%, respectively, compared to 7.1% in the control). Concomitantly, there was a decrease in the proportion of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5n-3), dihomo-γ linolenic acid (DGLA; 20:3n-6) and several 18-carbon unsaturated fatty acids in these groups.
In conclusion, ARA in rabbitfish feeds improved growth, survival as well as innate and acquired humoral immune functions. Thus ARA supplementation in the diet of this species could be a valuable step towards establishing the commercial culture of rabbitfish.