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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Consequences of temperature and temperature variability on swimming activity, group structure, and predation of endangered delta smelt

  • Author(s): Davis, Brittany E
  • Hansen, Matthew J
  • Cocherell, Dennis E
  • Nguyen, Trinh X
  • Sommer, Ted
  • Baxter, Randall D
  • Fangue, Nann A
  • Todgham, Anne E
  • et al.

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© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. The effects of water temperature on individual and group movement behaviour in prey fish can affect ecological interactions such as competition and predation, but how variability in temperature influence fish behaviour is less understood. Of particular concern is how increased warming in tidally fluctuating estuaries may impact the native and endangered delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus, Osmeridae). To help address this issue, we tested the effects of increased water temperature (fluctuating [17–21°C] and warm [21°C] acclimated treatments) on juvenile delta smelt individual and group behaviour, response to chemical alarm and predator cues, as well as capacity to evade predation. In addition, predation of delta smelt was tested in the presence of a dominant invasive competitor, Mississippi silversides (Menidia beryllina, Atherinopsidae), as well as comparative predation mortality on Mississippi silversides when isolated. After 7 days of increased temperature treatments, delta smelt in the warm treatment increased swimming velocity, decreased turning angle, and altered group structure with larger inter-individual distances compared to fish in the control (17°C) and fluctuating temperature treatments. Following conspecific and predator chemical alarm cues, delta smelt showed anti-predator responses. Control and fluctuating treatment fish responded to conspecific cues with increased swimming speeds, decreased inter-individual distances and near-neighbour distances, and, after 15 min, fish recovered back to baseline behaviours. In contrast, fish in the warm treatment had not recovered after 15 min, and swimming speeds were maintained at roughly 25 cm/s, close to maximum capabilities. Fish in control and fluctuating treatments showed minimal responses to predator cues, whereas delta smelt exposed to warm conditions significantly increased swimming speeds and decreased turning angle. Predation of delta smelt by largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides, Centrarchidae) was greatest under the warm treatment, correlating with altered behaviours of delta smelt; however, predation of Mississippi silversides was greater than delta smelt, independent of temperature. This study provides novel insight into the group behaviour of delta smelt, their response to predation, and how prolonged exposure to elevated temperature may induce negative individual and group behaviours causing alterations in predator–prey dynamics. This work highlights the importance of testing ecologically realistic temperature fluctuations in experiments as delta smelt had significantly altered responses to elevated temperature, dependent on variability of warming.

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