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Acute Copper Toxicity and Acclimation to Copper Using the Behavioral Endpoint of Shoaling, in the Least Killifish (Heterandria formosa)

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While copper is known to be neurotoxic, effects on behavior and especially on group behavior have received much less attention. Yet such behavioral effects can have important ecological consequences. This study determined whether shoaling behavior could be used as an indicator of acute copper toxicity and as an endpoint in studying acclimation in the least killifish (Heterandria formosa). For acute toxicity, least killifish were exposed to 0, 25, 50, or 100 μg/L of Cu for a 2-h duration and then tested for changes in shoaling behavior. The occurrence of copper acclimation was tested by pre-exposing fish to either 0 or 15 μg/L of Cu for a 7-day duration, then exposing them to 25, 50, or 100 μg/L of Cu to assess whether the two pre-exposure groups differed in their behavioral responses to high Cu levels. Behavioral responses were tested in a subdivided aquarium, with one side containing a group of conspecific fish and the other side the focal fish whose behavior was recorded for 3 min. Shoaling was based on the proximity of the focal fish to the divider separating it from the group of conspecific fish. Acute copper exposure resulted in significant decreases in both the time to first shoaling and in the total amount of time spent shoaling. Experiments assessing the occurrence of copper acclimation using shoaling as the toxicity endpoint did not detect a difference between the pre-exposure groups. Overall, this study demonstrated that acute copper exposure can alter shoaling behavior. However, least killifish shoaling behavior appears to be relatively insensitive as an endpoint to assess copper acclimation.

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This study was supported by funds from the Graduate Student Organization of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. We thank Patrick Smoak for his assistance with the laboratory experiments. This research was conducted under the University of Louisiana at Lafayette IACUC approval number 2011-8717-045.

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Correspondence to Sarah K. Vogt.

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Vogt, S.K., Billock, A.G. & Klerks, P.L. Acute Copper Toxicity and Acclimation to Copper Using the Behavioral Endpoint of Shoaling, in the Least Killifish (Heterandria formosa). Water Air Soil Pollut 224, 1627 (2013).

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  • Cu toxicity
  • Cu acclimation
  • Shoaling behavior
  • Fish behavioral effects