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Concept: Gasterosteiformes


In this study, for the first time, both neuropeptides isotocin (IT) and arginine vasotocin (AVT) have been identified and measured in urophysis, the neurohaemal organ of the caudal neurosecretory system of teleost fish. So far, AVT, but not IT, was quantified by radioimmunoassay (RIA) in urophysis of several fish species. We have used high-performance liquid chromatographic assay with fluorescence detection (HPLC-FL) preceded by solid-phase extraction (SPE) and liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization triple-quadrupole tandem mass spectrometry (LC-ESI MS/MS) technique to determine both neuropeptides in urophysis of three fish species. The efficiency of peptide’s SPE extraction was 79-85 %. In HPLC-FL method, the limits of detection (LOD) and quantification (LOQ) were estimated as 1.0 and 3.4 pmol/mL for IT and 0.25 and 2.20 pmol/mL for AVT. In LC-MS/MS method, LOD and LOQ were estimated as 0.4 and 1.2 pmol/mL for IT and 0.06 and 0.2 pmol/mL for AVT. The chromatographic methods are good alternative for RIA, because enable to measure both nonapeptides simultaneously in one sample. In round goby (Neogobius melanostomus), three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) and sea bream (Sparus aurata), urophysial IT concentrations ranged between 0.056 and 0.678 pmol/mg tissue and AVT concentrations ranged between 0.0008 (or even below detection threshold) and 0.084 pmol/mg tissue.

Concepts: Mass spectrometry, Measurement, Analytical chemistry, Actinopterygii, Tandem mass spectrometry, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes, Gilt-head bream


The neutral red retention assay has been proposed to determine the lysosomal membrane stability in immune cells. Nevertheless, this assay implies many examinations under a microscope at short time intervals and therefore the analysis of few samples. The present study proposes two more rapid, efficient, and sensitive sample analyses using flow cytometry method. Lysosomal presence and lysosomal membrane integrity (LMI) were evaluated on the three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteus aculeatus (L.), a well-described model fish species for aquatic ecotoxicology studies. After development of the two biomarkers, they were validated by ex vivo contamination with endosulfan and copper and by in situ sampling. These immunomarkers were clearly modulated by pollutants and their variations seemed to be correlated with leucocyte mortality. Thus, from a practical point of view, lysosomal presence and LMI may provide novel and efficient means of evaluating immune capacities and indicating the toxic effects of environmental pollution.

Concepts: In vivo, Toxicology, Flow cytometry, Cytotoxicity, Pollution, In situ, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes


Sexual maturation in the stickleback is controlled by photoperiod. The aim of this study was to find out whether changes in feedback effects exerted by sex steroids could mediate the photoperiodic effect, which is regarded to be of an all-or-nothing character. To that end, males were castrated and treated with different doses of testosterone (T) and in one experiment also with the aromatase inhibitor fadrozole (AI) and kept under different photoperiods. In control fish, long day (LD 16:8) stimulated maturation, associated with more hypertrophied kidneys (a secondary sexual character) and higher levels of pituitary lhb and fshb mRNA than under short day conditions (LD 8:16). Under LD 8:16, low doses of T suppressed both lhb and fshb mRNA levels. However, with the use of high doses of T and/or longer photoperiods the inhibitory effects on lhb and fshb mRNA levels became less clear or instead positive effects were observed. Under intermediate photoperiod conditions, the negative feedback effect of a low dose of T on fshb was more prominent with shorter photoperiods, whereas no such shift was observed for lhb mRNA. The inhibitory effect of the low dose of T on lhb mRNA levels under LD 8:16 was abolished by AI, whereas the stimulatory effect of the high dose of T was not. The negative feedback effects were more marked under short days than under long days, whereas positive feedback effects were more marked under long days. The suppression of both fshb and lhb mRNA levels by low androgen levels, especially under short days, may inhibit maturation completely unless a rise of androgens above threshold levels would allow complete maturation.

Concepts: Testosterone, Androgen, Control theory, Feedback, Negative feedback, Three-spined stickleback, Photoperiodism, Gasterosteiformes


Whether individual behavior in social settings correlates with behavior when individuals are alone is a fundamental question in collective behavior. However, evidence for whether behavior correlates across asocial and social settings is mixed, and no study has linked observed trends with underlying mechanisms. Consistent differences between individuals in boldness, which describes willingness to accept reward over risk, are likely to be under strong selection pressure. By testing three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) in a risky foraging task alone and repeatedly in shoals, we demonstrate that the expression of boldness in groups is context-specific. Whereas personality is repeatable in a low-risk behavior (leaving a refuge), the collectively made consensus decision to then cross the arena outweighs leadership by bolder individuals, explaining the suppression of personality in this context. However, despite this social coordination, bolder individuals were still more likely to feed. Habituation and satiation over repeated trials degrade the effect of personality on leaving the refuge and also whether crossing the arena is a collective decision. The suppression of personality in groups suggests that individual risk-taking tendency may rarely represent actual risk in social settings, with implications for the evolution and ecology of personality variation.

Concepts: Decision making, Risk, Decision theory, Risk management, Uncertainty, Core issues in ethics, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes


Behavioural traits that co-vary across contexts or situations often reflect fundamental trade-offs which individuals experience in different contexts (e.g. fitness trade-offs between exploration and predation risk). Since males tend to experience greater variance in reproductive success than females, there may be considerable fitness benefits associated with “bolder” behavioural types, but only recently have researchers begun to consider sex-specific and life-history strategies associated with these. Here we test the hypothesis that male three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) show high risk but potentially high return behaviours compared to females. According to this hypothesis we predicted that male fish would show greater exploration of their environment in a foraging context, and be caught sooner by an experimenter than females. We found that the time fish spent out of cover exploring their environment was correlated over two days, and males spent significantly more time out of cover than females. Also, the order in which fish were net-caught from their holding aquarium by an experimenter prior to experiments was negatively correlated with the time spent out of cover during tests, and males tended to be caught sooner than females. Moreover, we found a positive correlation between the catch number prior to our experiments and nine months after, pointing towards consistent, long-term individual differences in behaviour.

Concepts: Male, Reproduction, Female, Hermaphrodite, Actinopterygii, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes, Stickleback


Cortisol coregulation, which is the up- or down-regulation of partners' physiological stress responses, has been described for individuals with strong attachment bonds, e.g. parents and their children, and romantic relationship partners. Research into moderating effects on cortisol coregulation suggests stronger covariation among distressed partners. Whether cortisol coregulation is unique to humans or can also be found in other species that share universal features of the vertebrate stress response remains unexplored. Using a repeated measures approach and non-invasive waterborne hormone analysis, we test the hypothesis that dyads of three-spined stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus) coregulate their cortisol levels in shared environments. Dyadic cortisol levels were unrelated when cohabiting (home tank), but significantly covaried when sharing a more stressful (as indicated by higher cortisol levels) environment (open field). Time-lag analysis further revealed that open field cortisol levels were predicted by partner’s cortisol levels prior to the shared experience. To our knowledge, this study provides the first evidence for coregulatory processes on cortisol responses in a non-human animal that lacks strong bonds and social attachment relationships, suggesting a shared evolutionary origin of cortisol coregulation in vertebrates. From an adaptive perspective, cortisol coregulation may serve to reduce risk in challenging, potentially threatening situations.

Concepts: Animal, Interpersonal relationship, Stress, Vertebrate, Actinopterygii, Attachment theory, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes


Numerous factors affect the fine-scale social structure of animal groups, but it is unclear how important such factors are in determining how individuals encounter resources. Familiarity affects shoal choice and structure in many social fishes. Here, we show that familiarity between shoal members of sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) affects both fine-scale social organization and the discovery of resources. Social network analysis revealed that sticklebacks remained closer to familiar than to unfamiliar individuals within the same shoal. Network-based diffusion analysis revealed that there was a strong untransmitted social effect on patch discovery, with individuals tending to discover a task sooner if a familiar individual from their group had previously done so than if an unfamiliar fish had done so. However, in contrast to the effect of familiarity, the frequency with which individuals had previously associated with one another had no effect upon the likelihood of prey patch discovery. This may have been due to the influence of fish on one another’s movements; the effect of familiarity on discovery of an empty ‘control’ patch was as strong as for discovery of an actual prey patch. Our results demonstrate that factors affecting fine-scale social interactions can also influence how individuals encounter and exploit resources.

Concepts: Effect, Sociology, Affect, Social network, Network theory, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes, Social structure


As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, the CO2 concentration in ocean surface waters increases through a process commonly referred to as ocean acidification. Recently, surprising behavioural modifications has been detected in the early life stages of tropical coral reef fish exposed to ocean acidification-relevant CO2 concentrations, but it has been unclear if this effect could occur in temperate waters. Here we show several severe behavioural disturbances, including effects on boldness, exploratory behaviour, lateralisation, and learning in a temperate fish, the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). The behavioural effects were consistent throughout the exposure period and increased in effect size with exposure time. We observed the effects on adult sticklebacks, a species known to be tolerant to other environmental stressors. Our findings suggest that behavioural abnormalities that stem from CO2 exposure are not restricted to sensitive tropical species or early life stages and may therefore affect fish on a global scale. The severity of disturbances and the possibility of a serious behavioural problem for fish across the globe is cause for concern.

Concepts: Psychology, Carbon dioxide, Coral, Coral reef, Ocean, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes, Ocean acidification


Predators sample the available prey community when foraging; thus, changes in the environment may be reflected by changes in predator diet and foraging preferences. We examined Forster’s tern (Sterna forsteri) prey species over an 11-year period by sampling approximately 10,000 prey fish returned to 17 breeding colonies in south San Francisco Bay, California. We compared the species composition among repeatedly-sampled colonies (≥ 4 years), using both relative species abundance and the composition of total dry mass by species. Overall, the relative abundances of prey species at seven repeatedly-sampled tern colonies were more different than would be expected by chance, with the most notable differences in relative abundance observed between geographically distant colonies. In general, Mississippi silverside (Menidia audens) and topsmelt silverside (Atherinops affinis) comprised 42% of individuals and 40% of dry fish mass over the study period. Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) comprised the next largest proportion of prey species by individuals (19%) but not by dry mass (6%). Five additional species each contributed ≥ 4% of total individuals collected over the study period: yellowfin goby (Acanthogobius flavimanus; 10%), longjaw mudsucker (Gillichthys mirabilis; 8%), Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii; 6%), northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax; 4%), and staghorn sculpin (Leptocottus armatus; 4%). At some colonies, the relative abundance and biomass of specific prey species changed over time. In general, the abundance and dry mass of silversides increased, whereas the abundance and dry mass of three-spined stickleback and longjaw mudsucker decreased. As central place foragers, Forster’s terns are limited in the distance they forage; thus, changes in the prey species returned to Forster’s tern colonies suggest that the relative availability of some fish species in the environment has changed, possibly in response to alteration of the available habitat.

Concepts: Predation, Actinopterygii, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes, Herring, Tern, Forster's Tern, Sterna


On March 11, 2011, a large earthquake occurred, causing a tsunami which struck the Pacific coast of northeast Japan. We investigated the ecological and genetic effects of the large tsunami on the threespine stickleback (genus Gasterosteus) populations in Otsuchi Town, which was one of the most severely damaged areas after the tsunami. Our environmental surveys showed that spring water may have contributed to the habitat recovery. Morphological analysis of the stickleback before and after the tsunami showed morphological shifts in the gill raker number, which is a foraging trait. Genetic analyses revealed that the allelic richness of one population was maintained after the tsunami, whereas that of another decreased in 2012 and then started to recover in 2013. Additionally, we found that the large tsunami and ground subsidence created new spring water-fed pools with sticklebacks, suggesting that the tsunami brought sticklebacks into these pools. Genetic analysis of this population showed that this population might be derived from hybridization between freshwater Gasterosteus aculeatus and anadromous G. nipponicus. Overall, our data indicate that tsunamis can influence morphologies and genetic structures of freshwater fishes. Furthermore, spring water may play important roles in the maintenance and creation of fish habitats, faced with environmental disturbance.

Concepts: Gene, Evolution, Biology, Water, Pacific Ocean, Tsunami, Three-spined stickleback, Gasterosteiformes