Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 196, Issue 10, pp 701–711 | Cite as

Understanding behavioral responses of fish to pheromones in natural freshwater environments

  • Nicholas S. Johnson
  • Weiming LiEmail author


There is an abundance of experimental studies and reviews that describe odorant-mediated behaviors of fish in laboratory microcosms, but research in natural field conditions has received considerably less attention. Fish pheromone studies in laboratory settings can be highly productive and allow for controlled experimental designs; however, laboratory tanks and flumes often cannot replicate all the physical, physiological and social contexts associated with natural environments. Field experiments can be a critical step in affirming and enhancing understanding of laboratory discoveries and often implicate the ecological significance of pheromones employed by fishes. When findings from laboratory experiments have been further tested in field environments, often different and sometimes contradictory conclusions are found. Examples include studies of sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) mating pheromones and fish alarm substances. Here, we review field research conducted on fish pheromones and alarm substances, highlighting the following topics: (1) contradictory results obtained in laboratory and field experiments, (2) how environmental context and physiological status influences behavior, (3) challenges and constraints of aquatic field research and (4) innovative techniques and experimental designs that advance understanding of fish chemical ecology through field research.


Pheromone Fish physiology Fish behavior Field study Laboratory study 



3-Keto petromyzonol sulfate


Petromyzonol sulfate


Allocholic acid

17,20 βP

17α, 20β-Dihydroxy-4-pregnen-3-one


Prostaglandin F2α


Passive integrated transponder



During the preparation of this manuscript, funding was received from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Permission was granted by Elsevier to include Fig. 1a. We thank Dr. Stephen Riley, Dr. Michael Wagner, Karen Slaght, Erin Walaszczyk and Mark Luehring for thoughtful comments during the development of the manuscript. This article is Contribution 1568 of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center.


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© US Government 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Great Lakes Science Center, Hammond Bay Biological StationUSGSMillersburgUSA

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