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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Impacts of Oxazepam on Perch (Perca fluviatilis) Behavior: Fish Familiarized to Lake Conditions Do Not Show Predicted Anti-anxiety Response

Fahlman, Johan; Hellstrom, Gustav; Jonsson, Micael; Fick, Jerker Berglund; Rosvall, Martin; Klaminder, Jonatan


A current theory in environmental science states that dissolved anxiolytics (oxazepam) from wastewater effluents can reduce anti-predator behavior in fish with potentially negative impacts on prey fish populations. Here, we hypothesize that European perch (Perca fluviatilis) populations being exposed to oxazepam in situ show reduced anti-predator behavior, which has previously been observed for exposed isolated fish in laboratory studies. We tested our hypothesis by exposing a whole-lake ecosystem, containing both perch (prey) and northern pike (Esox lucius; predator), to oxazepam while tracking fish behavior before and after exposure in the exposed lake as well as in an unexposed nearby lake (control). Oxazepam concentrations in the exposed lake ranged between 11 and 24 mu g L-1, which is >200 times higher than concentrations reported for European rivers. In contrast to our hypothesis, we did not observe an oxazepaminduced reduction in anti-predator behavior, inferred from perch swimming activity, distance to predators, distance to conspecifics, home-range size, and habitat use. In fact, exposure to oxazepam instead stimulated anti-predator behavior (decreased activity, decreased distance to conspecifics, and increased littoral habitat use) when using behavior in the control lake as a reference. Shoal dynamics and temperature changes may have masked modest reductions in anti-predator behavior due to oxazepam. Although we cannot fully resolve the mechanism(s) behind our observations, our results indicate that the effects of oxazepam on perch behavior in a familiar natural ecosystem are negligible in comparison to the effects of other environmental conditions.

Published in

Environmental Science and Technology
2021, Volume: 55, number: 6, pages: 3624-3633