Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. The need for enhanced disease resistance, feed efficiency, and growth performance of cultured organisms is substantial for various sectors of this industry. If growth performance and feed efficiency are increased in commercial aquaculture, then the costs of production are likely to be reduced. Also if more fish are able to resist disease and survive until they are of marketable size, the subsequent cost of medication and overall production costs would be reduced drastically. It has been documented in a number of food animals that gastrointestinal microbiota play important roles in affecting the nutrition and health of the host organism. Thus, various means of altering the intestinal microbiota to achieve favorable effects such as enhancing growth, digestion, immunity, and disease resistance of the host organism have been investigated in various terrestrial livestock as well as in humans. Dietary supplementation of prebiotics, which are classified as nondigestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by stimulating growth and/or activity of a limited number of health-promoting bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter spp. in the intestine, while limiting potentially pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria and Escherichia coli, have been reported to favorably affect various terrestrial species; however, such information is extremely limited to date for aquatic organisms. Effects of probiotics, defined as live microbial feed supplements, on gastrointestinal microbiota have been studied in some fishes, but the primary application of microbial manipulations in aquaculture has been to alter the composition of the aquatic medium. In general, the gastrointestinal microbiota of fishes including those produced in aquaculture has been poorly characterized, especially the anaerobic microbiota. Therefore, more detailed studies of the microbial community of cultured fish are needed to potentially enhance the effectiveness of prebiotic and probiotic supplementation. This review summarizes and evaluates current knowledge of intestinal microbial ecology of fishes, the various functions of this intestinal microbial community, and the potential for further application of prebiotics and probiotics in aquaculture.
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