Sand goby (Pomatoschistus minutus) males exposed to an endocrine disrupting chemical fail in nest and mate competition
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are a widely studied group of chemicals that interfere with the endocrinology of organisms. So far, few studies have demonstrated the effect of EDCs on the reproductive behavior of aquatic wildlife. Here we show that sand goby males' (Pomatoschistus minutus) success in mating competition greatly decreases after an exposure for 7 to 24 days to 17Î±-ethinyl estradiol (EE2, measured concentration 4 ng L− 1). The sand goby exhibits a polygynous mating system with male parental care, in which males compete for nest sites and females. The aim of this study was to test how EE2 exposure affects the ability of males to compete for breeding resources, i.e. nest sites and mates. First, EE2 exposed males competed over a nest site against a non-exposed, control male of the same size. Secondly, we examined male courtship behavior and female mate preferences for EE2 exposed males and similar-sized non-exposed, control males. In addition to the behavioral experiments we determined the zona radiata protein (Zrp) mRNA gene expression and measured morphometric indicators of sexual maturation. Our study revealed that EE2 treated males were not able to acquire or defend a nest site. Additionally, EE2 treated males spent significantly less time in active courtship and nest leading behavior than control males. As a result, females clearly preferred to mate with control males. However, we found no significant differences in Zrp mRNA expression or the morphometric indicators between treatments. Our study illustrates that exposure to this EDC can greatly reduce the chances of an individual reproducing successfully. Moreover, it demonstrates that severe behavioral effects can be seen before any effects are detectable at the molecular or morphometric level.