Impact of the widespread pharmaceutical pollutant fluoxetine on behaviour and sperm traits in a freshwater fish

Jake M. Martin, Michael G. Bertram, Minna Saaristo, Tiarne E. Ecker, Stephanie L. Hannington, James L. Tanner, Marcus Michelangeli, Moira K. O'Bryan, Bob B.M. Wong

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54 Citations (Scopus)


Pharmaceutical pollutants are detected in aquatic habitats and wildlife tissues globally. One widespread contaminant of major concern is the antidepressant fluoxetine, which can affect behavioural and physiological processes in non-target species. Despite this, effects of fluoxetine on wildlife behaviour have seldom been investigated across multiple fitness-related contexts, especially at environmentally realistic concentrations. Accordingly, we examined impacts of 35-day fluoxetine exposure at two environmentally relevant concentrations (31 and 374 ng/L) across a suite of fitness-related contexts in wild-caught male mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki). First, we investigated anxiety-related behaviours (boldness, exploration and activity) in a novel environment (maze arena) and found no significant impacts of exposure. Second, we tested effects of fluoxetine in a reproductive context, including mating behaviour and sperm quality. We found that, relative to controls, fluoxetine exposure resulted in males spending a greater amount of time pursuing females. Further, low-exposed males were more likely to attempt copulation than unexposed males. Lastly, we investigated across-context behavioural correlations, and how fluoxetine exposure might affect such relationships. A significant positive correlation was detected in control fish between activity levels in the maze and time spent pursuing females in the reproductive assay. This relationship was disrupted by fluoxetine at both exposure levels. This is the first evidence that field-detected concentrations of a pharmaceutical pollutant can disturb across-context behavioural correlations in wildlife. Our findings provide clear evidence that fluoxetine can produce context-specific behavioural effects in fish and underscore how pharmaceutical exposure at field-detected concentrations can induce important shifts in wildlife behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1771-1778
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2019


  • Animal behaviour
  • Antidepressant
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioural syndrome
  • Reproduction
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
  • Sexual selection

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