Phytoplankton comprises the base of the food chain in the marine environment. Therefore, micro-algae are indispensable in the commercial rearing of various species of marine animals as a food source for all growth stages of bivalve molluscs, larval stages of some crustacean species, and very early growth stages of some fish species. Algae are furthermore used to produce mass quantities of zooplankton (rotifers, copepods, brine shrimp) which serve in turn as food for larval and early-juvenile stages of crustaceans and fish (Fig. 2.1.). Besides, for rearing marine fish larvae according to the green water technique algae are used directly in the larval tanks, where they are believed to play a role in stabilizing the water quality, nutrition of the larvae, and microbial control.
Figure 2.1. The central role of micro-algae in mariculture (Brown et al., 1989).
All algal species are not equally successful in supporting the growth and survival of a particular filter-feeding animal. Suitable algal species have been selected on the basis of their mass-culture potential, cell size, digestibility, and overall food value for the feeding animal. Various techniques have been developed to grow these food species on a large scale, ranging from less controlled extensive to monospecific intensive cultures. However, the controlled production of micro-algae is a complex and expensive procedure. A possible alternative to on-site algal culture is the collection of algae from the natural environment where, under certain conditions, they may be extremely abundant. Furthermore, in order to overcome or reduce the problems and limitations associated with algal cultures, various investigators have attempted to replace algae using artificial diets either as a supplement or as the main food source. These various aspects of the production, use and substitution of micro-algae in aquaculture will be treated within the limits of this chapter.