Original Paper

Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 623-640

First online:

Communication in troubled waters: responses of fish communication systems to changing environments

  • Inke van der SluijsAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, McGill University Email author 
  • , Suzanne M. GrayAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, McGill University Email author 
  • , Maria Clara P. AmorimAffiliated withUnidade de Investigacao em Eco-Etologia, ISPA
  • , Iain BarberAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Leicester
  • , Ulrika CandolinAffiliated withDepartment of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Helsinki
  • , Andrew P. HendryAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, McGill UniversityRedpath Museum, McGill University
  • , Rüdiger KraheAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, McGill University
  • , Martine E. MaanAffiliated withInstitute of Ecology and Evolution, University of BernEawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Center of Ecology, Evolution and Biogeochemistry
  • , Anne Christine Utne-PalmAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Bergen
    • , Hans-Joachim WagnerAffiliated withAnatomisches Institut, Universität Tübingen
    • , Bob B. M. WongAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, Monash University

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Fish populations are increasingly being subjected to anthropogenic changes to their sensory environments. The impact of these changes on inter- and intra-specific communication, and its evolutionary consequences, has only recently started to receive research attention. A disruption of the sensory environment is likely to impact communication, especially with respect to reproductive interactions that help to maintain species boundaries. Aquatic ecosystems around the world are being threatened by a variety of environmental stressors, causing dramatic losses of biodiversity and bringing urgency to the need to understand how fish respond to rapid environmental changes. Here, we discuss current research on different communication systems (visual, chemical, acoustic, electric) and explore the state of our knowledge of how complex systems respond to environmental stressors using fish as a model. By far the bulk of our understanding comes from research on visual communication in the context of mate selection and competition for mates, while work on other communication systems is accumulating. In particular, it is increasingly acknowledged that environmental effects on one mode of communication may trigger compensation through other modalities. The strength and direction of selection on communication traits may vary if such compensation occurs. However, we find a dearth of studies that have taken a multimodal approach to investigating the evolutionary impact of environmental change on communication in fish. Future research should focus on the interaction between different modes of communication, especially under changing environmental conditions. Further, we see an urgent need for a better understanding of the evolutionary consequences of changes in communication systems on fish diversity.


Evolution Environmental change Sensory systems Sexual selection Phenotypic plasticity Adaptation