Predator avoidance performance of larval fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) following short-term exposure to estrogen mixtures.
Aquatic organisms exposed to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) at early life-stages may have reduced reproductive fitness via disruption of reproductive and non-reproductive behavioral and physiological pathways. Survival to reproductive age relies upon optimal non-reproductive trait expression, such as adequate predator avoidance responses, which may be impacted through EDC exposure. During a predator-prey confrontation, larval fish use an innate C-start escape behavior to rapidly move away from an approaching threat. We tested the hypotheses that (1) larval fathead minnows exposed to estrogens, a primary class of EDCs, singularly or in mixture, suffer a reduced ability to perform an innate C-start behavior when faced with a threat stimulus; (2) additive effects will cause greater reductions in C-start behavior; and (3) effects will differ among developmental stages. In this study, embryos (post-fertilization until hatching) were exposed for 5 days to environmentally relevant concentrations of estrone (E1), 17beta-estradiol (E2), and 17alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2) singularly and in mixture. Exposed embryos were allowed to hatch and grow in control well water until 12 days old. Similarly, post-hatch fathead minnows were exposed for 12 days to these compounds. High-speed (1000frames/s) video recordings of escape behavior were collected and transferred to National Institutes of Health Image for frame-by-frame analysis of latency period, escape velocity, and total escape response (combination of latency period and escape velocity). When tested 12 days post-hatch, only E1 adversely affected C-start performance of larvae exposed as embryos. Conversely, larvae exposed for 12 days post-hatch did not exhibit altered escape responses when exposed to E1, while adverse responses were seen in E2 and the estrogen mixture. Ethinylestradiol exposure did not elicit changes in escape behaviors at either developmental stage. The direct impact of reduced C-start performance on survival, and ultimately, reproductive fitness provides an avenue to assess the ecological relevance of exposure in an assay of relatively short duration.