Even at sublethal concentrations, various anthropogenic pollutants may disrupt the transfer of chemosensory information, often inducing maladaptive behavioral responses. Recent studies of freshwater prey fishes have shown impaired abilities to respond to damage-released chemical alarm cues from conspecifics under weakly acidic conditions (pH ~ 6.0). Several factors acting individually or collectively may account for such chemosensory impairment. By itself, acidification may chemically disrupt the alarm cues and affect fish olfactory functions. Alternatively, differences in local environmental conditions may affect biochemical composition, quantity of chemical alarm cues produced by epidermal tissue, or both, leading to variations in alarm response. Our goal was to assess whether the ability to produce and detect conspecific chemical alarm cues is similar in individuals reared under neutral versus acidic conditions. We conducted two experiments in which we measured the behavioral response of wild juvenile Atlantic salmon Salmo salar exposed to chemical alarm cues. In particular, we looked for differences in the ability of individual fish to (1) produce alarm cues capable of eliciting consistent antipredator behavior in conspecifics and (2) detect alarm cues upon the fish's introduction into a stream with a pH differing from that of the stream of origin; the latter experiment involved reciprocal transplant of fish between neutral (pH range ~ 7.0-7.3) and acidic (pH range ~ 5.9-6.3) sites. Our results demonstrate that the ability to produce and respond to chemical alarm cues is maintained in Atlantic salmon reared under acidic conditions and did not differ from that of fish reared under neutral conditions. Overall, these data suggest that no permanent olfactory damage occurred under reduced pH and, likewise, no significant difference in functional alarm cue production existed between Atlantic salmon reared under neutral and acidic conditions. Short-term reduction in olfactory sensitivity and degradation of the chemical alarm cues under acidic conditions are the likely mechanisms affecting detection of these important chemicals by prey fish.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Aquatic Science