Fish news
Fish news
Stressed female fish produces active but abnormal offspring

Fish females subjected to stress produce highly active offspring but the risk of abnormalities also increases, according to new research carried out by Dr Monica Gagliano, a research fellow with the AIMS@JCU joint venture, and Dr Mark McCormick from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the James Cook University.

The research focused on the Ambon damsel fish (Chromis amboinensis), a common reef species in the Indo-Pacific, and has deepened our understanding of how stress factors affect not only the adult fish themselves but also their offspring. Being more active than normal affects survival and more active offspring will therefore have important implications for fish populations in a changing environment.

In their laboratory testing, Dr Gagliano and Dr McCormick exposed fertilized Ambon damsel eggs gathered from the wild to various amounts of the stress hormone cortisol. Previous studies have shown that female Ambon damsels release cortisol from their ovaries when subjected to environmental stress. Fish that lived on reefs with few predatory fish around and little competition released less cortisol than those who lived in environments where they had to deal with a lot of competition and predators.

In addition to making the offspring more active, high doses of cortisol also increases the risk of developmental defects.

If the mother fish is more stressed and she passes on more cortisol, then the offspring will have a faster developmental rhythm and therefore errors will be more likely in their development. One likely result of this is that the offspring are born asymmetrical,” Dr Gagliano said.

These baby fish can’t make these important hormones until later in life, so their whole initial development is determined by hormones they obtain from their mothers,” Dr McCormick added.

Developmental errors can naturally cause serious problem for fish and lower their chances of survival. In 2008, Dr Gagliano and her colleagues showed that fish born with asymmetrical ear bones have a hard time handling the open ocean stage of their life and that a large percentage of these fishes die before being able to find a reef to settle on. The asymmetry hurts the fish’s hearing ability and makes it difficult for it to pick up reef-related sounds.

In her new research project, Dr Gagliano has been able to show that maternal stress has a large measurable effect on the shape of ear bones. Offspring subjected to a high dose of cortisol are more than twice as likely to have asymmetrical ear bones compared with those that received no dose of cortisol.

You can find more information in the study published in Oecologia.

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