The endocrine disruptor, 17α-ethinyl estradiol, alters male mate choice in a freshwater fish

Minna Saaristo, Christopher P. Johnstone, Kun Xu, Mayumi Allinson, Bob B.M. Wong

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Among the handful of studies on the behavioural effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), only a few have set out to disentangle the mechanisms underpinning behavioural changes. In fish, previous studies have shown that both visual and chemical cues play an important role in mate choice. As such, contaminant-induced changes in either transmission or perception of mate choice cues could have direct implications for individual's fitness. One widespread contaminant of environmental concern is 17α-ethinyl estradiol (EE2), a synthetic estrogen used in the contraceptive pill. Here, we investigated the impacts of EE2 exposure (28 days; measured concentration 14 ng/L) on visual and chemical communication in wild guppies (Poecilia reticulata). Using a standard dichotomous mate choice assay, we first gave individual males (either control or EE2-exposed) the opportunity to court two size-matched females (one control and one EE2-exposed) using only visual cues. We then introduced chemical cues of females (control and EE2-exposed) to the trial tank. We found that there was no significant effect of EE2-treatment on total time males spent associating with the females, when given only visual cues. There was, however, a significant effect on male courtship behaviour, with both control and EE2-exposed males spending more time performing ‘sigmoid’ displays towards the visual cues of control females compared to EE2-exposed females. When males were presented with both visual and chemical female cues simultaneously, we found that males spent more time courting control females that were paired with EE2-chemical cues. Not only does our study uncover a previously unknown behavioural impact of EE2-exposure on chemical cues, but demonstrates that EE2-exposure can exert complex effects on visual and chemical communication in a mate choice context. Finally, we contribute to the discussion of intraspecific variability by providing data on the potential trade-offs underpinning contaminant-induced behavioural changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-125
Number of pages8
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • Chemical communication
  • Emerging environmental contaminant
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemical
  • Ethinyl estradiol
  • Sexual selection

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