Altered predator/prey behavior in polluted environments: implications for fish conservation

Research paper by Judith S. Weis, Graeme M. Smith, Tong Zhou

Indexed on: 01 Jun '99Published on: 01 Jun '99Published in: Environmental Biology of Fishes


Predator/prey behavior has important consequences for individual survival and recruitment into fish populations, both of which can be affected by stressors such as environmental contaminants. The degree to which prey capture or predator avoidance abilities of a predator or prey species are affected will determine the direction in which the balance will be shifted. In a contaminated estuary we have studied, prey capure and predator avoidance of resident mummichogs, Fundulus heteroclitus, are impaired, which may account for individuals in that estuary having reduced growth and longevity compared with those from uncontaminated sites. Exposure to sediments, water, and grass shrimp from the contaminated site can impair the predatory abilities of mummichogs from a clean site. An important prey species, the grass shrimp, Palaemonetes pugio, has a greater population density and a greater proportion of large individuals at the polluted site, apparently because of reduced predation pressure. Mummichog larvae at the polluted site are initially more active and better at prey capture and predator avoidance than larvae from clean sites, but later they become poorer at both. Differences in predator vulnerability among larvae appear to be due to population differences in behavior, which may be due in part to both genetic and environmentally-caused factors. Conservation of fish populations should consider fish behavior and its interaction with contaminants.