Hypoxia Has a Lasting Effect on Fast-Startle Behavior of the Tropical Fish Haemulon plumieri

Mayra A Sánchez-García, Steven J Zottoli, Loretta M Roberson
Biological Bulletin 2019, 237 (1): 48-62
Anthropogenic activities and climate change have resulted in an increase of hypoxic conditions in nearshore ecosystems worldwide. Depending on the persistence of a hypoxic event, the survival of aquatic animals can be compromised. Temperate fish exposed to hypoxia display a reduction in the probability of eliciting startle responses thought to be important for escape from predation. Here we examine the effect of hypoxia on the probability of eliciting fast-startle responses (fast-starts) of a tropical fish, the white grunt ( Haemulon plumieri ), and whether hypoxia has a prolonged impact on behavior once the fish are returned to normoxic conditions. White grunts collected from the San Juan Bay Estuary in Puerto Rico were exposed to an oxygen concentration of 2.5 mg L-1 (40% dissolved oxygen). We found a significant reduction in auditory-evoked fast-starts that lasted for at least 24 hours after fish were returned to normoxic conditions. Accessibility to the neuronal networks that underlie startle responses was an important motivator for this study. Mauthner cells are identifiable neurons found in most fish and amphibians, and these cells are known to initiate fast-starts in teleost fishes. The assumption that most of the short-latency responses in this study are Mauthner cell initiated provided the impetus to characterize the white grunt Mauthner cell. The identification of the cell provides a first step in understanding how low oxygen levels may impact a single cell and its circuit and the behavior it initiates.


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