Locomotor and behavioural responses of empire gudgeons (Hypseleotris compressa) exposed to coal mine wastewater
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Coal mining generates large quantities of complex effluent and may pose a threat to aquatic wildlife. Despite this, few studies have explored the consequences of exposure to mine wastewater on aquatic organisms, and this is particularly true for the Australian environment. We investigated sub-lethal behavioural responses in a native Australian fish exposed to wastewater from two releasing dams (CMW1 and CMW2) located at an open cut coal mine in Central Queensland. Swimming activity and movement of empire gudgeons (Hypseleotris compressa) were assessed during a two-week exposure using video-tracking software. Increased activity was observed in exposed fish after 7 and 14 days. Specifically, we found a significant increase in the mean velocity and mobility of fish exposed to CMW1 treatments. Exposed fish also spent on average 23% more time in the peripheral zone compared to controls after 14-d exposures. A similar response pattern was observed in fish exposed to CMW2, but differences between treated and control fish did not generally reach statistical significance. Alterations to normal swimming activity and movement patterns can be indicative of a stress response in fish, and could subsequently lead to negative population-level impacts by increasing the conspicuousness of exposed individuals to predators, or by altering foraging abilities. More research is warranted to explore relationships between behavioural and physiological outcomes, including endocrine disruption, and subsequent population-level outcomes in aquatic organisms at risk of exposure to coal process-affected water.