Paternal care, where the male provides sole care for the developing brood, is a common form of reproductive investment among teleost fish and ubiquitous in the Centrarchidae family. Throughout the parental care period, nesting males expend energy in a variety of swimming behaviours, including routine and burst swimming, vigilantly monitoring the nest area and protecting the brood from predators. Parental care is an energetically demanding period, which is presumably made even more difficult if fish are exposed to additional challenges such as those arising from human disturbance, resulting in activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal axis (i.e., elevation of cortisol). To study this situation, we examined the effects of experimental manipulation of the stress hormone cortisol on locomotor activity and behaviour of nest guarding male smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu). We exogenously elevated circulating cortisol levels (via intracoelomic implants) and attached tri-axial accelerometers to wild smallmouth bass for three days. During the recovery period (i.e., ≤ 4 h post-release), cortisol-treated fish exhibited significantly reduced locomotor activity and performed significantly less burst and routine swimming relative to control fish, indicating cortisol uptake was rapid, as were the associated behavioural responses. Post-recovery (i.e., > 4 h post-release), fish with high cortisol exhibited lower locomotor activity and reduced routine swimming relative to controls. Fish were less active and reduced routine and burst swimming at night compared to daylight hours, an effect independent of cortisol treatment. Collectively, our results suggest that cortisol treatment (as a proxy for anthropogenic disturbance and stress) contributed to altered behaviour, and consequently cortisol-treated males decreased parental investment in their brood, which could have potential fitness implications.

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Keywords Accelerometer, Glucocorticoid, Parental care, Parental investment, Teleost
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Journal Physiology and Behavior
Algera, D.A. (Dirk A.), Brownscombe, J.W. (Jacob W.), Gilmour, K.M. (Kathleen M.), Lawrence, M.J. (Michael J.), Zolderdo, A.J. (Aaron J.), & Cooke, S.J. (2017). Cortisol treatment affects locomotor activity and swimming behaviour of male smallmouth bass engaged in paternal care: A field study using acceleration biologgers. Physiology and Behavior, 181, 59–68. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.08.026