Development of a New Technique to Assess Susceptibility to Predation Resulting from Sublethal Stresses (Indirect Mortality)

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Fish that pass through a hydroelectric turbine may not be killed directly, but may nonetheless experience sublethal stresses that will increase their susceptibility to predators (indirect mortality). There is a need to develop reliable tests for indirect mortality so that the full consequences of passage through turbines (and other routes around a hydroelectric dam) can be assessed. We evaluated a new technique for assessing indirect mortality, based on a behavioral response to a startling stimulus (akin to perceiving an approaching predator). We compare this technique to the standard predator preference test. The behavioral response is a rapid movement commonly referred ... continued below

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Cada, G.F. August 25, 2003.

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Fish that pass through a hydroelectric turbine may not be killed directly, but may nonetheless experience sublethal stresses that will increase their susceptibility to predators (indirect mortality). There is a need to develop reliable tests for indirect mortality so that the full consequences of passage through turbines (and other routes around a hydroelectric dam) can be assessed. We evaluated a new technique for assessing indirect mortality, based on a behavioral response to a startling stimulus (akin to perceiving an approaching predator). We compare this technique to the standard predator preference test. The behavioral response is a rapid movement commonly referred to as a startle response, escape response, or C-shape, based on the characteristic body position assumed by the fish. When viewed from above, a startled fish bends into a C-shape, then springs back and swims away in a direction different from its original orientation. This predator avoidance (escape) behavior can be compromised by sublethal stresses that temporarily stun or disorient the fish. We subjected striped shiners and fathead minnows to varying intensities of either turbulence (10-, 20- or 30-min) or 2-min exposures to a fish anesthetic (100 or 200 mg/L of tricaine methanesulfonate), and evaluated their subsequent behavior. Individual fish were given a startle stimulus and filmed with a high-speed video camera. Each fish was startled and filmed twice before being stressed, and then at 1-, 5-, 15-, and 30-min post-exposure. The resulting image files were analyzed for a variety of behavioral measures including: presence of a response, time to first reaction, duration of reaction, time to formation of maximum C-shape, time to completion of C-shape, and completeness of C-shape. The most immediate measure of potential changes in fish behavior was whether stressed fish exhibited a startle response. For striped shiners, the number of fish not responding to the stimulus was significantly different from controls at 1-min post-exposure and for fathead minnows at 1- and 5-min post-exposure. The greatest effects occurred with exposure to the fish anesthetic; in fathead minnows all of the recorded measures were significantly different from controls at 1-min and 5-min post-exposure at the 100 mg/L dose. For striped shiners all recorded behavioral measures were significantly different from controls at 1-min at the 200 and 100 mg/L doses and for selected behavioral measures at 5-min. Turbulence also had significant effects on striped shiner startle responses following 20- and 30-min exposures for all behavioral measures at 1-min. The patterns suggest that any effects on startle response due to turbulence or low doses of anesthetic are short-lived, but can be evaluated using the escape behavior technique. The most useful indication of changes in escape behavior in these tests was the simple reaction/no reaction to the startle stimulus. The startle response occurred reliably among unstressed fish, and was frequently reduced or eliminated in fish exposed to turbulence or anesthesia. The other behavioral parameters observed were often altered by the sublethal stresses as well. A standard predator preference test was also conducted with largemouth bass as the predators and fathead minnows as prey. In this test design, groups of 10 unstressed fish (controls) and 10 stressed fish were put in a tank with a predator. The stressed fathead minnows were exposed to turbulence or fish anesthetic. The predator was allowed to eat half of the prey, and the data were evaluated to determine whether predators consumed greater proportions of stressed minnows than control minnows. The predation test indicated that exposure to MS-222 resulted in significant predation in fathead minnows, but exposure to turbulence did not. This pattern was the same as seen in fathead minnows using the startle response (escape behavior) test. For the sublethal stresses we applied, evaluation of changes in fish escape behavior yielded results comparable to traditional predator preference tests. Because this fish behavior test is simpler and quicker to conduct than predator preference tests, it shows promise as a useful technique for assessing indirect mortality resulting from sublethal stresses.

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  • Other Information: PBD: 25 Aug 2003

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  • Report No.: ORNL/TM-2003/195
  • Grant Number: AC05-00OR22725
  • DOI: 10.2172/814408 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 814408
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc735031

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  • August 25, 2003

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  • Oct. 18, 2015, 6:40 p.m.

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  • March 31, 2016, 12:50 p.m.

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Cada, G.F. Development of a New Technique to Assess Susceptibility to Predation Resulting from Sublethal Stresses (Indirect Mortality), report, August 25, 2003; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc735031/: accessed December 14, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.