The Iconic Atlantic Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara): A Comprehensive Assessment of Health Indices in the Southeastern United States Population

Christopher R. Malinowski, Justin R. Perrault, Felicia C. Coleman, Christopher C. Koenig, Justin M. Stilwell, Carolyn Cray, Nicole I. Stacy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Atlantic Goliath Grouper (Epinephelus itajara) population has rebounded from near extinction to an international status as vulnerable due in part to regional species recovery efforts. The southeastern US population has been recovering with the main spawning locations off the coasts of Florida. Despite their economic importance to the catch-and-release fishery and the dive industry, and their ecological importance as ecosystem engineers resulting in positive impacts on reefs and species richness, baseline health assessment information is very limited in this species to date. The objectives of this study were to: (1) establish reference intervals for hematological and plasma biochemical analytes, and report immune function, oxidative stress, and vitellogenin in mature males and females; (2) evaluate total length, age, and sex in relation to blood analytes in juvenile and mature fish; (3) assess analytes across sampled months in mature male and female fish; and (4) describe the typical light microscopy findings in liver and gill biopsies, including quantitative assessment of pigmented macrophage aggregates. Health indices are reported as reference intervals when applicable, or otherwise descriptively. Blood analyte correlations with length and age, sex differences, and comparisons across months provided relevant physiological considerations, including differences in protein/energy metabolism, tissue growth, sexual maturation, active reproduction, and antigenic stimulation. Liver histology identified changes associated with life stage, active reproduction, or of subclinically to clinically insignificant infectious and/or inflammatory processes. Hepatocellular vacuolation and pigmented macrophage aggregates were prominent. Pigmented macrophage aggregates correlated with total length, presumably from continuous antigenic stimulation and/or metabolic changes as fish grow. Gill histological findings were subtle. The data presented herein provide an essential baseline assessment of a suite of health variables in an iconic marine teleost species, serves as a springboard for future studies relevant to conservation physiology, and allows for population-level applications for conservation management and policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number635
JournalFrontiers in Veterinary Science
StatePublished - Sep 25 2020


  • conservation ecology
  • hematology
  • histology
  • marine teleost
  • native immune functions
  • oxidative stress
  • plasma biochemistry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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