In situ exposure to wastewater effluent reduces survival but has little effect on the behaviour or physiology of an invasive Great Lakes fish
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Treated effluents from wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) are a significant source of anthropogenic contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, in the aquatic environment. Although our understanding of how wastewater effluent impacts fish reproduction is growing, we know very little about how effluent affects non-reproductive physiology and behaviours associated with fitness (such as aggression and activity). To better understand how fish cope with chronic exposure to wastewater effluent in the wild, we caged round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) for three weeks at different distances from a wastewater outflow. We evaluated the effects of this exposure on fish survival, behaviour, metabolism, and respiratory traits. Fish caged inside the WWTP and close to the outfall experienced higher mortality than fish from the reference site. Interestingly, those fish that survived the exposure performed similarly to fish caged at the reference site in tests of aggressive behaviour, startle-responses, and dispersal. Moreover, the fish near WWTP outflow displayed similar resting metabolism (O2 consumption rates), hypoxia tolerance, haemoglobin concentration, haematocrit, and blood-oxygen binding affinities as the fish from the more distant reference site. We discuss our findings in relation to exposure site water quality, concentrations of pharmaceutical and personal care product pollutants, and our test species tolerance.
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