The impact of water pH on association preferences in fish

Kleinhappel, Tanja K. and Burman, Oliver H.P. and John, Elizabeth A. and Wilkinson, Anna and Pike, Thomas W. (2019) The impact of water pH on association preferences in fish. Ethology, 125 (4). pp. 195-202. ISSN 0179-1613

Full content URL: http://doi.org/10.1111/eth.12843

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Abstract

Acidification of lakes and rivers, as a consequence of anthropogenic interference, can cause fundamental changes to biological and ecological processes. One of the main consequences of a reduction in water pH for aquatic organisms is the disruption of their chemosensory abilities, as the detection of chemical cues underpins a wide range of decision-making processes; for example, a reduction to low pH has been shown to interfere with predator avoidance and the detection of foraging cues. Moreover, aquatic organisms are known to make widespread use of chemical information to inform their social behaviour, although we have a comparably poor understanding of how this is impacted by water acidification, especially their shoaling behaviour. Using a standard behavioural assay, we therefore investigated the impact of low water pH on the social interactions mediated by diet-derived chemical cues in three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus), by quantifying social behaviour in water that varied either experimentally or naturally in pH. In both cases we predicted that association patterns would be disrupted by low pH conditions, as reduced pH has shown to interfere with the perception of chemical cues in other non-social contexts. Consistent with this prediction, our results demonstrate that an acute, short-term reduction in water pH caused a breakdown in the diet-mediated social interaction patterns seen in more alkaline water, although, interestingly, the pattern of associations for fish tested in naturally acidic water was both more complex and in a direction that was precisely contrary to our predictions. Overall the findings provide insights into the potential effects of an acute reduction in water pH on fish communication and social interaction patterns, which may have implication for various individual, group, population and community-level processes.

Keywords:anthropogenic interference, chemical cues, Gasterosteus aculeatus, social network, sticklebacks, water acidity
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C120 Behavioural Biology
C Biological Sciences > C180 Ecology
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:35220
Deposited On:22 Mar 2019 14:50

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