A leading source of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in the environment is run-off of veterinary pharmaceuticals used in agriculture, including hormonal growth promotants (HGPs). Despite being banned in various countries, HGP use is still common in beef production around the world. The androgenic steroid 17β-trenbolone (17β-TB) is a HGP that commonly enters surface waters via livestock effluent run-off. Here, we used a flow-through system to expose wild-caught adult male guppies (Poecilia reticulata) to an environmentally realistic level of 17β-TB (average measured concentration = 2 ng/L) for 21 days. We then compared the response of exposed and unexposed males to sequentially presented large and small stimulus (unexposed) females. Due to a positive size-fecundity relationship, larger females are generally expected to be preferred by males. While we found no evidence that the size of a previously encountered female affected the amount of courtship or coercive ‘sneak’ mating behaviour performed by males during the second presentation, males from both exposure treatments conducted more frequent courting events towards larger females during both presentations, suggesting an absolute preference for greater female size. Further, across both presentations, 17β-TB exposure caused a shift in male mating strategy towards increased coercive sneaking behaviour, although male sequential investment into mating effort was not impacted at the tested dosage. In combination, our findings demonstrate that exposure to a field-realistic level of a widespread agricultural pollutant alters male mating strategies in fish, and contribute to a growing understanding of sub-lethal impacts of chemical contaminants on complex behaviours in wildlife.
Bertram, M. G., Tomkins, P., Saaristo, M., Martin, J. M., Michelangeli, M., Tomkins, R. B., & Wong, B. B. M. (2020). Disruption of male mating strategies in a chemically compromised environment. Science of the Total Environment, 703, . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134991