Authors
  • Lawrence, Michael J.
  • Godin, Jean-Guy J.
  • Zolderdo, Aaron J.
  • Cooke, Steven J.
Universities

Summary

Stressed fish have been shown to have higher predator-induced mortality than unstressed conspecifics, suggesting a role for the hypothalamic–pituitary–interrenal axis in modifying risk-taking behaviors. Yet, there is also evidence of behavioral resiliency in the face of chronic stressors. Here, we tested the behavioral resiliency hypothesis, which posits that animals can maintain consistent behavioral phenotypes in the face of significant physiological challenges. We determined whether chronic plasma cortisol elevation promotes risk-taking behaviors in a model teleost fish, the pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus). Experimental fish were implanted with cocoa butter either as a sham or with cortisol. At 48 h post-implantation, the behavior of individual focal fish was tested in an experimental arena comprising of a simulated physical refuge, an open zone containing a constrained conspecific shoal, and a compartment containing either a model of a northern pike (Esox lucius) paired with corresponding pike olfactory cues in lake water or no pike model (control) paired with sham lake water cues only. The fish were assayed individually for their refuge utilization, shoaling tendency, and general activity. Neither cortisol treatment nor predation-risk treatment influenced any of these behaviors. This suggests that sunfish, in the context of our experiment, were behaviorally resilient to the physiological effects of chronic plasma cortisol elevation and in the face of an apparent threat of predation. Our results thus provide support for the behavioral resiliency hypothesis in fish under both physiological and ecological stressors. We posit that behavioral resiliency is an evolutionary adaptation ensuring appropriate responses to environmental conditions.

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