Effects of salinity on olfactory toxicity and behavioral responses of juvenile salmonids from copper. Aquatic Toxicology 175.2016.
Dissolved copper is one of the more pervasive and toxic constituents of stormwater runoff and is commonly found in stream, estuary, and coastal marine habitats of juvenile salmon. While stormwater runoff does not usually carry copper concentrations high enough to result in acute lethality, they are of concern because sublethal concentrations of copper exposure have been shown to both impair olfactory function and alter behavior in various species in freshwater. To compare these results to other environments that salmon are likely to encounter, experiments were conducted to evaluate the effects of salinity on the impairment of olfactory function and avoidance of copper. Copper concentrations well within the range of those found in urban watersheds, have been shown to diminish or eliminate the olfactory response to the amino acid, l-serine in freshwater using electro-olfactogram (EOG) techniques. The olfactory responses of both freshwater-phase and seawater-phase coho and seawater-phase Chinook salmon, were tested in freshwater or seawater, depending on phase, and freshwater-phase coho at an intermediate salinity of 10‰. Both 10‰ salinity and full strength seawater protected against the effects of 50μg copper/L. In addition to impairing olfactory response, copper has also been shown to alter salmon behavior by causing an avoidance response. To determine whether copper will cause avoidance behavior at different salinities, experiments were conducted using a multi-chambered experimental tank. The circular tank was divided into six segments by water currents so that copper could be contained within one segment yet fish could move freely between them. The presence of individual fish in each of the segments was counted before and after introduction of dissolved copper (<20μg/L) to one of the segments in both freshwater and seawater. To address whether use of preferred habitat is altered by the presence of copper, experiments were also conducted with a submerged structural element. The presence of sub-lethal levels of dissolved copper altered the behavior of juvenile Chinook salmon by inducing an avoidance response in both freshwater and seawater. While increased salinity is protective against loss of olfactory function from dissolved copper, avoidance could potentially affect behaviors beneficial to growth, survival and reproductive success.
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RMP Journal Article on Copper Toxicity to Salmon (News)
Site-specific objectives (SSO) for copper, developed in 2007, called for further study on the potential toxicity of copper to the olfactory system of salmonids. The RMP, in partnership with the Copper Development Association, funded studies by researchers at the National Marine Fisheries Service to address this data gap. A journal article summarizing this work was published in June. The studies indicated a threshold for copper olfactory toxicity in freshwater-phase juvenile salmon of around 5 μg/L in freshwater.