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Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2005 May;61(1):1-6.

Effect of copper exposure during embryonic development on chemosensory function of juvenile fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas).

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  • 1Department of Biology, Nipissing University, 100 College Drive, North Bay, Ont., Canada P1B 8L7.


Fish rely on chemosensation to alert them of nearby predators. Recent evidence suggests that metals disrupt this chemical communication system. Our objective was to determine the chemical alarm response of juvenile fathead minnows after embryonic copper (Cu) exposure. Embryos were randomly assigned to one of two treatments: clean water or water containing 10 microg/L Cu. Once hatched, half of the Cu-exposed embryos were transferred to clean water (after hatch), while the other half remained in the Cu-contaminated water. Fish were tested using a triumvirate maze at the age of 84-96 d post-hatch. Fish reared in clean water significantly avoided the alarm cue. However, fish reared under continuous Cu exposure and those that were only exposed to Cu during embryonic development were unable to respond to the chemical alarm stimulus. Fish from all treatments did not respond to two control stimuli. Results from this study suggest that fish exposed to elevated Cu concentrations during embryonic development is sufficient to impair chemosensory function during later life stages. This could result in an inability to detect nearby predators by olfaction, which could lead to important ecological perturbations in populations inhabiting metal-contaminated systems.

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