Environmental toxicology and chemistry

Evidence for behavioral preference toward environmental concentrations of urban-use herbicides in a model adult fish.

PMID 21647945


Fish live in waters of contaminant flux. In three urban, fish-bearing waterways of British Columbia, Canada, we found the active ingredients of WeedEx, KillEx, and Roundup herbicide formulations (2,4-D, dicamba, glyphosate, and mecoprop) at low to high ng/L concentrations (0.26 to 309 ng/L) in routine conditions, i.e., no rain for at least one week. Following rain, these concentrations increased by an average of eightfold, suggesting runoff as a major route of herbicide introduction in these waterways. To determine whether fish might be able to limit point-source exposures through sensory-driven behaviors, we introduced pulses of representative herbicide mixtures to individual adult zebrafish (a model species) in flow-through tanks. Fish did the opposite of limit exposure; they chose to spend more time in pulses of herbicide mixtures representative of those that may occur with rain events. This attraction response was not altered by a previous 4-d exposure to lower concentrations of the mixtures, suggesting fish will not learn from previous exposures. However, previous exposures did alter an attraction response to an amino acid prevalent in food (L-alanine). The present study demonstrates that fish living within urban waterways may elect to place themselves in herbicide-contaminated environments and that these exposures may alter their behavioral responses to cues necessary for survival.