The effects of anthropogenic noise have garnered significant attention in marine ecosystems, but comparatively less is known about its impacts on freshwater ecosystems. For fish that provide parental care, the effects of acoustic disturbance could have fitness-level consequences if nest tending behavior is altered. This study explored the effects of motorboat noise on the parental behavior of nesting male smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu; Lacépède, 1802), an important freshwater game fish in North America that provides sole paternal care to offspring. Specifically, we evaluated how boat noise proximity to a bass nest (ranging from 4.5 to 90 m) influenced paternal care behaviors. A total of 73 fish were exposed to a 3-min motorboat playback designed to simulate a boat sound that typically occurs in areas near littoral nesting sites. The fish were video recorded, and their behaviors were analyzed before, during, and after exposure to the playback. Residency time was the only behavioral metric to be adversely affected by noise playbacks but only when in close proximity to the speaker. Our results suggest that boat noise may have an impact on bass reproductive fitness in specific contexts where combustion motors are used near shore during the nesting period. The largely null findings may indicate a resilience to boat noise and/or habituation to the noise. In addition, boats displace water and create waves that represent another form of disturbance that could be experienced by fish but was not simulated here. Future research should integrate behavioral and physiological responses to boat noise and other aspects of boat disturbance to better understand the fitness impacts of boating activity on freshwater fish.

Anthropogenic noise, Boat noise, Nesting behavior, Parental care, Smallmouth bass, Stress, Teleost
Water, Air, and Soil Pollution
Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory

MacLean, K. (K.), Prystay, T.S. (T. S.), Lawrence, M.J. (M. J.), Zolderdo, A.J. (A. J.), Gutowsky, L.F.G. (L. F.G.), Staaterman, E. (E.), … Cooke, S.J. (2020). Going the Distance: Influence of Distance Between Boat Noise and Nest Site on the Behavior of Paternal Smallmouth Bass. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, 231(4). doi:10.1007/s11270-020-04470-9