There are substantial concerns that increasing levels of anthropogenic noise in the oceans may impact aquatic animals. Noise can affect animals physically, physiologically and behaviourally, but one of the most obvious effects is interference with acoustic communication. Acoustic communication often plays a crucial role in reproductive interactions and over 800 species of fish have been found to communicate acoustically. There is very little data on whether noise affects reproduction in aquatic animals, and none in relation to acoustic communication. In this study we tested the effect of continuous noise on courtship behaviour in two closely-related marine fishes: the two-spotted goby (Gobiusculus flavescens) and the painted goby (Pomatoschistus pictus) in aquarium experiments. Both species use visual and acoustic signals during courtship. In the two-spotted goby we used a repeated-measures design testing the same individuals in the noise and the control treatment, in alternating order. For the painted goby we allowed females to spawn, precluding a repeated-measures design, but permitting a test of the effect of noise on female spawning decisions. Males of both species reduced acoustic courtship, but only painted gobies also showed less visual courtship in the noise treatment compared to the control. Female painted gobies were less likely to spawn in the noise treatment. Thus, our results provide experimental evidence for negative effects of noise on acoustic communication and spawning success. Spawning is a crucial component of reproduction. Therefore, even though laboratory results should not be extrapolated directly to field populations, our results suggest that reproductive success may be sensitive to noise pollution, potentially reducing fitness.
De Jong, K., Amorim, M. C. P., Fonseca, P. J., Fox, C. J., & Heubel, K. U. (2017). Noise can affect acoustic communication and subsequent spawning success in fish. Environmental Pollution. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.11.003