Behavioural and physical effects of arsenic exposure in fish are aggravated by aquatic algae

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Arsenic contamination has global impacts and freshwaters are major arsenic repositories. Arsenic toxicity depends on numerous interacting factors which makes effects difficult to estimate. The use of aquatic algae is often advocated for bioremediation of arsenic contaminated waters as they absorb arsenate and transform it into arsenite and methylated chemical species. Fish are another key constituent of aquatic ecosystems. Contamination in natural systems is often too low to cause mortality but sufficient to interfere with normal functioning. Alteration of complex, naturally occurring fish behaviours such as foraging and aggression are ecologically relevant indicators of toxicity and ideal for assessing sublethal impacts. We examined the effects of arsenic exposure in the invasive mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki, in a laboratory experiment incorporating some of the complexity of natural systems by including the interacting effects of aquatic algae. Our aims were to quantify the effects of arsenic on some complex behaviours and physical parameters in mosquitofish, and to assess whether the detoxifying mechanisms of algae would ameliorate any effects of arsenic exposure. Aggression increased significantly with arsenic whereas operculum movement decreased non-significantly and neither food capture efficiency nor consumption were notably affected. Bioaccumulation increased with arsenic and unexpectedly so did fish biomass. Possibly increased aggression facilitated food resource defence allowing fish to gain weight. The presence of algae aggravated the effects of arsenic exposure. For increase in fish biomass, algae acted antagonistically with arsenic, resulting in a disadvantageous reduction in weight gained. For bioaccumulation the effects were even more severe, as algae operated additively with arsenic to increase arsenic uptake and/or assimilation. Aggression was also highest in the presence of both algae and arsenic. Bioremediation of arsenic contaminated waters using aquatic algae should therefore be carried out with consideration of entire ecosystem effects. We highlight that multidisciplinary, cross-taxon research, particularly integrating behavioural and other effects, is crucial for understanding the impacts of arsenic toxicity and thus restoration of aquatic ecosystems ​
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