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Front Zool. 2013 Dec 27;10(1):81. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-81.

Atlantic cod actively avoid CO2 and predator odour, even after long-term CO2 exposure.

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Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, PO Box 463, Gothenburg SE-405 30, Sweden.



The rising atmospheric CO2 level is continuously driving the dissolution of more CO2 into the oceans, and some emission scenarios project that the surface waters may reach 1000 μatm by the end of the century. It is not known if fish can detect moderately elevated CO2 levels, and if they avoid areas with high CO2. If so, avoidance behaviour to water with high CO2 could affect movement patterns and migrations of fish in the future. It is also being increasingly recognized that fish behaviour can be altered by exposure to CO2. Therefore this study investigated how long-term exposure to elevated pCO2 affects predator avoidance and CO2 avoidance in juvenile Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). The fish were exposed to control water or CO2-enriched water (1000 μatm) for six weeks before being subjected to tests of behaviour.


Despite long term exposure to elevated pCO2 the cod still strongly avoided the smell of a predator. These data are surprising because several coral reef fish have demonstrated reversal of olfactory responses after CO2 exposure, turning avoidance of predator cues into preference for predator cues. Fish from both treatment groups also demonstrated strong avoidance of CO2 when presented with the choice of control or CO2-acidified water, indicating that habituation to the CO2 sensory stimuli is negligible.


As Atlantic cod maintained normal behavioural responses to olfactory cues, they may be tolerant to CO2-induced behavioural changes. The results also suggest that despite the long-term exposure to CO2-acidified water, the fish still preferred the control water over CO2-acidified water. Therefore, in the future, fish may alter their movements and migrations in search of waters with a lower CO2 content.

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