Measuring Responses to Simulated Predation Threat Using Behavioral and Physiological Metrics: The Role of Aquatic Vegetation

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Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory


An organism's daily activities are affected by predation and predation risk that have behavioral and physiological costs, which translate into long-term population and community consequences. We tested the hypothesis that the perception of predation risk from sand seatrout, Cynoscion arenarius, affects the behavior, and immediate and intermediate physiological responses of longnose killifish, Fundulus majalis. We further hypothesized that prey responses change if prey are buffered by artificial submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), a potential refuge from predators. Experiments were conducted to quantitatively estimate the behavior, plasma cortisol (PC) concentration, mass-specific oxygen consumption, and short-term growth rate changes relative to full, partial, and no visual exposure to the predator. The partial visual exposure treatment involved the use of artificial SAV. Our results indicate that there are significant behavior and physiological responses of longnose killifish to predation threat. Longnose killifish in the full visual and partial exposure treatments displayed different behaviors than the control treatments by shifting towards the rear of the aquaria. In addition, longnose killifish in the full visual exposure compared to the partial exposure and the control treatments responded by exhibiting an elevation of PC and mass-specific oxygen consumption rate, and through decreased short-term growth. These responses were less intense in the partial exposure, when artificial SAV was present. The significance of this study is that it examines a suite of responses from cellular to the whole-organism level as they are affected by predation threat and modified by the presence or absence of artificial SAV.

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