Behavioural effects of psychoactive pharmaceutical exposure on European perch (Perca fluviatilis) in a multi-stressor environment

Minna Saaristo, A Lagesson, MG Bertram, J Fick, J Klaminder, CP Johnstone, Wong BBM, T Brodin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


With the ability to resist biodegradation and exert therapeutic effects at low concentrations, pharmaceutical contaminants have become environmental stressors for wildlife. One such contaminant is the anxiolytic oxazepam, a psychoactive pharmaceutical that is frequently detected in surface waters globally. Despite growing interest in understanding how wildlife respond to anxiolytics, synergistic effects of pharmaceuticals and other abiotic (e.g. temperature) and biotic (e.g. predation risk) stressors remain unclear. Here, using amulti-stressor approach, we investigated effects of 7-day oxazepam exposure (6.5 mu g/L) on anxiety-related behaviours in juvenile European perch (Perca fluviatilis). The multi-stressor approach was achieved by exposing perch to oxazepam at two temperatures (10 degrees C and 18 degrees C), and at two predation risk regimes-generated using chemical cues from the northern pike (Esox lucius). Our exposures resulted in a successful uptake of the drug from the water, i.e., oxazepam was measured in perch muscle tissue at 50 +/- 17 ng/g (mean +/- SD). We found significant oxazepam-induced effects on boldness, with 76.7% of the treated fish entering the white background (i.e. 'exposed' area where exposure to presumed risks are higher) within the first 5 min, compared to 66.6% of the control fish. We also found a significant effect of temperature on total time spent freezing (i. e. staying motionless). Specifically, fish in the low temperature treatments (oxazepam, predation) froze for longer than fish in high temperatures. Our multi-stressor study is the first to uncover how anxiety-related behaviours in wild juvenile fish are altered by changes in water temperature and perceived predation risk. Importantly, our findings highlight the need to focus on multiple stressors to improve understanding of how organisms not only survive, but adapt to, human-induced environmental change.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1311–1320
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Oxazepam
  • Temperature effect
  • pharmaceuticals
  • anti-predator behaviour
  • Behavioural ecotoxicology

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