Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 92, Issue 2, pp 207–215 | Cite as

How boat noise affects an ecologically crucial behaviour: the case of territoriality in Gobius cruentatus (Gobiidae)

  • Linda Sebastianutto
  • Marta Picciulin
  • Marco Costantini
  • Enrico A Ferrero


Gobius cruentatus emit sounds during agonistic interactions. In order to evaluate the effect of boat noise exposure on G. cruentatus territorial behaviour, we played a field-recorded diesel engine boat noise during aggressive encounters between an intruder and a resident fish in a laboratory-controlled tank. We tested two factors: role (resident vs. intruder) and condition (noisy vs. silent); the test animals underwent all the treatments in a round-robin design. Agonistic behavior of the residents was modified by boat noise: during the playback residents were more submissive and won less encounters than in the control (silent) condition. We suggest that sound production is an effective tool for territorial defense, since the impairment of acoustic communication due to the recreational boat noise diminished the ability of the resident to maintain its territory.


Agonistic interaction Noise pollution Fish sounds Boat noise 



This study was part of a project to monitor human-made noise in Marine Protected Areas supported by the Italian Ministry for Environment, Territory and Sea. We would like to thank Maurizio Spoto and the Miramare Natural Marine Reserve staff for technical assistance, Elena Pangaro for her support in data collection, Antonio Codarin for help in acoustic analyses, MPC Amorim for critical reading and valuable comments, and Valerie Lesk for English proofreading.


  1. Akamatsu T, Okumura T, Novarini N, Yan HY (2002) Empirical refinements applicable to the recording of fish sounds in small tanks. J Acoust Soc Am 112:3073–3082PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amorim MCP, Almada VC (2005) The outcome of male–male encounters affects subsequent sound production during courtship in the cichlid fish Oreochromis mossambicus. Anim Behav 69:595–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amorim MCP, Neves ASM (2008) Male painted gobies (Pomatoschistus pictus) vocalize to defend territories. Behav 145:1065–1083CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Amoser S, Wysocki LE, Ladich F (2004) Noise emission during the first powerboat race in an Alpine lake and potential impact on fish communities. J Acoust Soc Am 116:3789–3797PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Candolin U, Salesto T, Evers M (2007) Changed environmental conditions weaken sexual selection in sticklebacks. J Evol Biol 20:233–239PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chase I, Bartolomeo C, Dugatkin LA (1994) Aggressive interactions and inter-contest interval: how long do winners keep winning? Anim Behav 48:393–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Codarin A, Wysocki LE, Ladich F, Picciulin M (2009) Effects of ambient and boat noise on hearing and communication in three fish species living in a marine protected area (Miramare, Italy). Mar Poll Bull 58:1880–1887CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen J (1988) Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, HillsdaleGoogle Scholar
  9. Enquist M, Leimar O, Ljungberg T, Mallner Y, Segerdahl N (1990) A test of the sequential assessment game: fighting in the cichlid fish Nannacara anomala. Anim Behav 40:1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gill PS, Swartz TB (2001) Statistical analyses for round robin interaction data. Can J Stat 29:321–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Haviland-Howell G, Frankel AS, Powel CM, Bocconcelli A, Herman RL, Sayigh LS (2007) Recreational boating traffic: a chronic source of anthropogenic noise in Wilmington, North Carolina Intracoastal Waterway. J Acoust Soc Am 122:151–160PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ladich F (1997) Agonistic behaviour and significance of sounds in vocalizing fish. Mar Freshw Behav Physiol 29:87–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ladich F, Myrberg AA (2006) Agonistic behavior and acoustic communication. In: Ladich F, Collin S, Moller P, Kapoor BG (eds) Communication in fishes. Science Publishers, Enfield, pp 121–148Google Scholar
  14. Lugli M, Yan HY, Fine ML (2003) Acoustic communication in two freshwater gobies: the relationship between ambient noise, hearing thresholds and sound spectrum. J Comp Physiol 189:309–320Google Scholar
  15. Maynard Smith J (1982) Evolution and the theory of games. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. McBurney DH (1998) Experimental psychology. Wadsworth, BelmontGoogle Scholar
  17. Meunier B, Yavno S, Ahmed S, Corkum LD (2009) First documentation of spawning and nest guarding in the laboratory by the invasive fish, the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus). J Great Lakes Res 35:608–612CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Oliveira RF, Hirschenhauser K, Carneiro LA, Canario AVM (2002) Social modulation of androgen levels in male teleost fish. Comp Biochem Physiol B: Biochem Mol Biol 132:203–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ota D, Marchesan M, Casaretto L, Francese M, Ferrero EA (1999) Life style of the grass goby Zosterisessor ophiocephalus (Pisces, Gobiidae). Boll Soc Adriat Sci 78:183–206Google Scholar
  20. Ottoni EB (2000) EthoLog 2.2: A tool for the transcription and timing of behavior observation sessions. Behav Res Meth Instr Comp 32:446–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Picciulin M, Sebastianutto L, Costantini M, Rocca M, Ferrero EA (2006) Aggressive territorial ethogram of the red-mouthed goby, Gobius cruentatus (Gmelin 1789). Electron J Ichthyol 2:38–49Google Scholar
  22. Picciulin M, Sebastianutto L, Codarin A, Farina A, Ferrero EA (2010) In-situ behavioral responses to boat noise exposure of Gobius cruentatus (Gmelin, 1789; fam. Gobiidae) and Chromis chromis (Linnaeus, 1758; fam. Pomacentridae) living in a Marine Protected Area. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 386:125–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Popper AN, Fewtrell J, Smith ME, McCauley RD (2004) Anthropogenic sound: effects on the behavior and physiology of fishes. J Mar Sci Technol 37:35–40Google Scholar
  24. Raffinger E, Ladich F (2009) Acoustic threat displays and agonistic behaviour in the red-finned loach Yasuhikotakia modesta. J Ethol 27:239–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Richardson WJ, Würsig B (1997) Influences of man-made noise and other human actions on cetacean behavior. Mar Freshwat Behav Physiol 29:183–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rocca M (2001) Caratterizzazione del comportamento e delle emissioni acustiche in Gobius cruentatus (Gmelin, 1789) in contesto agonistico. Dissertation, University of TriesteGoogle Scholar
  27. Sebastianutto L, Picciulin M, Costantini M, Rocca M, Ferrero EA (2008) Four types of sounds for one winner: vocalizations during territorial behaviour in the red-mouthed goby Gobius cruentatus (Pisces: Gobiidae). Acta ethol 11:115–121CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Slabbekoorn H, Bouton N, van Opzeeland I, Coers A, ten Cate C, Popper AN (2010) A noisy spring: the impact of globally rising underwater sound levels on fish. Trends Ecol Evol 25(7):419–27PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tortonese E (1975) Bavose e ghiozzi. In: Fauna d’Italia. Osteichthyes (Pesci Ossei). Calderini, BolognaGoogle Scholar
  30. Valinksy W, Ridgley L (1981) Function of sound production by the skunk loach Botia horae (Pisces: Cobitidae). Z Tierpsychol 55:161–172Google Scholar
  31. Vasconcelos RO, Amorim MCP, Ladich F (2007) Effects of ship noise on the detectability of communication signals in the Lusitanian toadfish. J Exp Biol 210:2104–2112PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Vasconcelos RO, Simones JM, Almada VC, Fonseca PJ, Amorim MCP (2010) Vocal behavior during territorial intrusions in the Lusitanian Toadfish: boatwhistles also function as territorial ‘keep-out’ signals. Ethology 116:155–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wilkins HKA, Myers AA (1991) The distribution of Gobies (Teleostei, Gobiidae). In: Myers AA, Little C, Costello MJ, Partridge JC (eds) The ecology of Lough Hyne. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, pp 107–115Google Scholar
  34. Wilkins HKA, Myers AA (1993) Shelter utilisation by Gobius cruentatus and Thorogobius ephippiatus (Teleostei: Gobiidae). J Fish Biol 43:763–773CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Wong BBM, Candolin U, Lindstrom K (2007) Environmental deterioration compromises socially enforced signals of male quality in three-spined sticklebacks. Am Nat 170:184–189PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Wysocki LE, Codarin A, Ladich F, Picciulin M (2009) Sound pressure and particle acceleration audiograms in three marine fish species from the Adriatic Sea. J Acoust Soc Am 126:2100–2107PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linda Sebastianutto
    • 1
  • Marta Picciulin
    • 2
    • 3
  • Marco Costantini
    • 4
  • Enrico A Ferrero
    • 3
  1. 1.Cognitive Neuroscience SectorSISSA, International School for Advanced StudiesTriesteItaly
  2. 2.Etho-ecology Marine LaboratoryNatural Marine Reserve of Miramare—WWFTriesteItaly
  3. 3.Department of Life SciencesUniversity of Trieste, CSEETriesteItaly
  4. 4.WWF ItaliaRomaItaly

Personalised recommendations