Behavioral responses of adult male and female fathead minnows to a model estrogenic effluent and its effects on exposure regime and reproductive success

Candice Lavelle, Peter W. Sorensen

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11 Scopus citations


Laboratory studies of adult male fathead minnows have shown that when they are exposed to estrogens, they lose their ability to compete for access to females and sire young, suggesting that estrogenic effluents may reduce the genetic fitness of populations of wild fishes. However, it is unknown whether wild fish which are exposed to effluent actually compete with unexposed fishes, how long effects of estrogen exposure last, and whether females are affected by estrogens. This study addressed these issues using the fathead minnow (FHM) and effluent from the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant (MWTP) a well-studied source of environmental estrogens (EEs) in the Mississippi River. Maze tests found that adult FHMs are neither attracted nor repelled by MWTP effluent while previous studies have shown that minnows are attracted to the warmer waters which characterize effluents; it is realistic that previously unexposed fish enter MWTP effluent in the spring and then compete with exposed individuals. Competitive spawning experiments showed that male FHMs exposed to 44. ng E2/l (a high but realistic level) for three weeks failed to compete with unexposed males while males exposed to 4. ng E2/l outcompeted and sired more young than unexposed males (p< 0.05). The effects of estrogen exposure disappeared within a week of moving fish into uncontaminated water. Female FHM reproductive output and behavior were unaffected by exposure to estrogen. Taken together, these experiments suggest that the behavior of wild fishes likely determines their exposure to EEs and that while the effects of this exposure are likely significant to populations of wild fish, they will be location specific because of factors which determine the duration and intensity of male exposure. We conclude that the role of fish behavior in endocrine disruption strongly warrants additional consideration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)521-528
Number of pages8
JournalAquatic Toxicology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Feb 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is the result of research sponsored by the Minnesota Sea Grant College Program supported by the NOAA Office of Sea Grant, United States Department of Commerce, under grant No. NA03OAR4170048 to PWS. The U.S. Government is authorized to reproduce and distribute reprints for government purposes, not withstanding any copyright notation that may appear hereon. This paper is journal reprint no. 592 of the Minnesota Sea Grant College Program. We thank Dalma Martinović for her advice and both Jeff Denny and Kathy Jensen from the Mid Continent Ecology Division of the EPA, Duluth, MN for assistance. Jon Hess, David Goldberg and Keith Philippe assisted with behavioral observations, data entry and husbandry. Mario Travaline helped with effluent transport and tank set-up while Haude Levesque kindly drew Fig. 2 . Deb Swackhamer kindly assisted with editing.

Copyright 2012 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Behavior
  • Competitive mating
  • Environmental estrogen
  • Natural selection
  • Temperature


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