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Concept: Three-spined stickleback


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


Marine stickleback fish have colonized and adapted to thousands of streams and lakes formed since the last ice age, providing an exceptional opportunity to characterize genomic mechanisms underlying repeated ecological adaptation in nature. Here we develop a high-quality reference genome assembly for threespine sticklebacks. By sequencing the genomes of twenty additional individuals from a global set of marine and freshwater populations, we identify a genome-wide set of loci that are consistently associated with marine-freshwater divergence. Our results indicate that reuse of globally shared standing genetic variation, including chromosomal inversions, has an important role in repeated evolution of distinct marine and freshwater sticklebacks, and in the maintenance of divergent ecotypes during early stages of reproductive isolation. Both coding and regulatory changes occur in the set of loci underlying marine-freshwater evolution, but regulatory changes appear to predominate in this well known example of repeated adaptive evolution in nature.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Natural selection, Population genetics, Adaptation, Charles Darwin, Three-spined stickleback


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


It is well established that living in groups helps animals avoid predation and locate resources, but maintaining a group requires collective coordination, which can be difficult when individuals differ from one another. Personality variation (consistent behavioural differences within a population) is already known to be important in group interactions. Growing evidence suggests that individuals also differ in their consistency, i.e. differing in how variable they are over time, and theoretical models predict that this consistency can be beneficial in social contexts. We used three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) to test whether the consistency in, as well as average levels of, risk taking behaviour (i.e. boldness) when individuals were tested alone affects social interactions when fish were retested in groups of 2 and 4. Behavioural consistency, independently of average levels of risk-taking, can be advantageous: more consistent individuals showed higher rates of initiating group movements as leaders, more behavioural coordination by joining others as followers, and greater food consumption. Our results have implications for both group decision making, as groups composed of consistent individuals are more cohesive, and personality traits, as social interactions can have functional consequences for consistency in behaviour and hence the evolution of personality variation.

Concepts: Psychology, Decision making, Risk, Sociology, Decision theory, Behavior, Social relation, Three-spined stickleback


Despite longstanding interest in the genetic mechanisms that underlie behavioral evolution, very few genes that underlie naturally occurring variation in behavior between individuals or species are known, particularly in vertebrates. Here, we build on our previous forward genetic mapping experiments and use transgenic approaches to identifyEctodysplasinas a gene that causes differences in schooling behavior between wild populations of threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) fish. This work provides rare insight into the proximate mechanisms that have shaped the evolution of vertebrate behavior.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Evolution, Biology, Species, Actinopterygii, Three-spined stickleback


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