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Hypoxia constrains behavioral responses to chemical alarm cues by fathead minnows Pimephales promelas

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Hypoxia is a seasonally recurring environmental condition in small temperate lakes during summer thermal stratification and under ice cover in winter. Anthropogenic eutrophication contributes significantly to hypoxia by increasing primary production of organic materials that subsequently decompose in the hypolimnion. Greenhouse gas emissions that increase global temperatures will reduce the capacity of water to hold dissolved gases such as oxygen and increase the duration of thermal stratification and thus increase the severity and duration of hypoxic conditions in temperate lakes. How hypoxia may impact assessment of predation risk is under-studied. Here, we present a test of the effect of low dissolved oxygen (~ 1 ppm) on antipredator behavioral responses to conspecific alarm cues by fathead minnows. When alarm cues derived from conspecific epidermal tissues were introduced, fish under normoxic conditions (~ 9 ppm) reduced activity and moved out of the water column to spend more time at the bottom. These behaviors serve to reduce the probability of predation. At low dissolved oxygen levels, fathead minnows engaged in aquatic surface respiration, i.e., “drinking” the surface film of oxygen-rich water. When alarm cues were introduced, minnows left the surface waters to dash briefly downward but soon returned to the surface and did not reduce their activity. Taken together, these data indicate that under oxygen stress, minnows engage in truncated antipredator responses and remain near the surface where they would be more vulnerable to avian predators or air-breathing invertebrates such as belastomatids. Through decreased availability of dissolved oxygen, global climate change is likely to disrupt predator–prey interactions in temperate lakes.

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Data from this manuscript are available upon request.

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The statistical code used to analyze the data in this paper is available upon request.


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We thank Dana Carlson for the assistance in laboratory logistics and apparatus set up.


This study was supported by funds from a Judy Strong student research grant awarded to MCS, IGD and ARS.

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Authors and Affiliations



BDW project mentorship; MCS, IGD, ARS, and BDW conceived and developed the experimental design; MCS, IGD, and ARS wrote the grant proposal to fund the research; MCS, IGD, and ARS conducted all data collection; CLM, MCS, IGD, and ARS did the data analysis and drew the figures; BDW wrote the first draft of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Brian D. Wisenden.

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The protocols for care and use of fathead minnows used in this study were reviewed and approved by the Minnesota State University Moorhead Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee under protocol 19-R/T-BIO-018-N-Y-C.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Strand, M.C., DeVriendt, I.G., Seigel, A.R. et al. Hypoxia constrains behavioral responses to chemical alarm cues by fathead minnows Pimephales promelas. Environ Biol Fish 105, 1509–1517 (2022).

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