Exposure to wastewater effluent affects fish behaviour and tissue-specific uptake of pharmaceuticals Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Pharmaceutical active compounds (PhACs) are increasingly being reported in wastewater effluents and surface waters around the world. The presence of these products, designed to modulate human physiology and behaviour, has created concern over whether PhACs similarly affect aquatic organisms. Though laboratory studies are beginning to address the effects of individual PhACs on fish behaviour, few studies have assessed the effects of exposure to complex, realistic wastewater effluents on fish behaviour. In this study, we exposed a wild, invasive fish species-the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus)-to treated wastewater effluent (0%, 50% or 100% effluent dilutions) for 28days. We then determined the impact of exposure on fish aggression, an important behaviour for territory acquisition and defense. We found that exposure to 100% wastewater effluent reduced the number of aggressive acts that round goby performed. We complimented our behavioural assay with measures of pharmaceutical uptake in fish tissues. We detected 11 of 93 pharmaceutical compounds that we tested for in round goby tissues, and we found that concentration was greatest in the brain followed by plasma, then gonads, then liver, and muscle. Fish exposed to 50% and 100% effluent had higher tissue concentrations of pharmaceuticals and concentrated a greater number of pharmaceutical compounds compare to control fish exposed to no (0%) effluent. Exposed fish also showed increased ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity in liver tissue, suggesting that fish were exposed to planar halogenated/polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PHHs/PAHs) in the wastewater effluent. Our findings suggest that fish in effluent-dominated systems may have altered behaviours and greater tissue concentration of PhACs. Moreover, our results underscore the importance of characterizing exposure to multiple pollutants, and support using behaviour as a sensitive tool for assessing animal responses to complex contaminant mixtures, like wastewater effluent.


  • McCallum, Erin S
  • Krutzelmann, Emily
  • Brodin, Tomas
  • Fick, Jerker
  • Sundelin, Anna
  • Balshine, Sigal

publication date

  • December 2017