Noise during mouthbrooding impairs maternal care behaviors and juvenile development and alters brain transcriptomes in the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni

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Anthropogenic noise has increased underwater ambient sound levels in the range in which most fishes detect and produce acoustic signals. Although the impacts of increased background noise on fish development have been studied in a variety of species, there is a paucity of information on how noise affects parental care. Mouthbrooding is an energetically costly form of parental care in which the brooding fish carries developing larvae in the buccal cavity for the duration of development. In the African cichlid Astatotilapia burtoni, females carry their brood for ~2 weeks during which time they do not eat. To test the hypothesis that increased background noise impacts maternal care behaviors and brood development, we exposed brooding females to a 3-h period of excess noise (~140 dB) played through an underwater speaker. Over half of noise-exposed brooding females cannibalized or pre-maturely released their brood, but 90% of control females exhibited normal brooding behaviors. RNA-seq analysis revealed that transcripts related to feeding and parental care were differentially expressed in the brains of noise-exposed females. Juveniles that were exposed to noise during their brood period within the mother's mouth had lower body condition factors, higher mortality and altered head transcriptomes compared with control broods. Furthermore, onset of adult-typical coloration and behaviors was delayed compared with control fish. Together, these data indicate that noise has severe impacts on reproductive fitness in mouthbrooding females. Our results, combined with past studies, indicate that parental care stages are extremely susceptible to noise-induced perturbations with detrimental effects on species persistence.

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Genes, brain, and behavior

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