The hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal (HPI) axis is centrally implicated in stressor mitigation in teleost fishes. Sustained HPI axis activation can be detrimental to the physiological functioning of an organism and can result in fitness-related trade-offs. Predator-induced mortality is known to be higher in stressed fish than in unstressed conspecifics, suggesting a role for the HPI axis in mediating fish behaviour. However, the underlying specific mechanism(s) for this phenomenon is(are) unknown. The purpose of the current study was to address how the HPI axis influences risk-taking, and antipredator behaviours in a wild teleost, the pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus). Here, individual juvenile pumpkinseed were implanted either with cocoa butter as a sham control or with a biologically-relevant concentration of cortisol. Forty-eight hours post-implantation, fish were assessed for behavioural metrics associated with boldness and risk taking in three sequential behavioural tests: (i) a predation-risk test, (ii) an exploration tendency test, and (iii) a shoaling tendency test, with test order randomized among different trials. Cortisol treatment had no influence on antipredator, exploratory, or shoaling behaviours. However, post-attack swimming duration (in predation-risk test) and exploratory activity (in Z-maze exploration test) were significantly affected by body mass. Collectively, our results indicate that cortisol may not have a role in mediating sociability, boldness, and risk-taking behaviours in pumpkinseed sunfish, at least under the current laboratory conditions. However, cortisol may nonetheless play a role in mediating predator-prey interactions in fishes in more natural environmental settings that were not considered here.

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Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - A Molecular and Integrative Physiology
Department of Biology

Lawrence, M.J. (Michael J.), Godin, J.-G.J, & Cooke, S.J. (Steven J.). (2018). Does experimental cortisol elevation mediate risk-taking and antipredator behaviour in a wild teleost fish?. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - A Molecular and Integrative Physiology, 226, 75–82. doi:10.1016/j.cbpa.2018.08.002