Temperature modulates the impacts of wastewater exposure on the physiology and behaviour of fathead minnow
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Municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent is a substantial source of pollution in aquatic habitats that can impact organisms across multiple levels of biological organization. Even though wastewater effluent is discharged continuously all year long, its impacts across seasons, specifically during winter, have largely been neglected in ecotoxicological research. Seasonal differences are of particular interest, as temperature-driven metabolic changes in aquatic organisms can significantly alter their ability to respond to chemical stressors. In this study, we examined the effects of multiple levels of wastewater effluent exposure (0, 25, or 50% treated effluent) on the physiological and behavioural responses of adult fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) at temperatures simulating either summer (20 °C) or winter (4 °C) conditions. At 20 °C, wastewater exposure posed a metabolic cost to fish, demonstrated by higher standard metabolic rate and was associated with increased haematocrit and a reduction in boldness. In contrast, fish exposed to wastewater at 4 °C experienced no change in metabolic rate but performed fewer social interactions with their conspecifics. Taken together, our results demonstrate that wastewater exposure can lead to metabolic and behavioural disruptions, and such disruptions vary in magnitude and direction depending on temperature. Our findings highlight the importance of studying the interactions between stressors, while also underscoring the importance of research during colder periods of the year to broaden and deepen our understanding of the impacts of wastewater contamination in aquatic ecosystems.