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Quantifying fish swimming behavior in response to acute exposure of aqueous copper using computer assisted video and digital image analysis

March 2, 2016

Behavioral responses of aquatic organisms to environmental contaminants can be precursors of other effects such as survival, growth, or reproduction. However, these responses may be subtle, and measurement can be challenging. Using juvenile white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) with copper exposures, this paper illustrates techniques used for quantifying behavioral responses using computer assisted video and digital image analysis. In previous studies severe impairments in swimming behavior were observed among early life stage white sturgeon during acute and chronic exposures to copper. Sturgeon behavior was rapidly impaired and to the extent that survival in the field would be jeopardized, as fish would be swept downstream, or readily captured by predators. The objectives of this investigation were to illustrate protocols to quantify swimming activity during a series of acute copper exposures to determine time to effect during early lifestage development, and to understand the significance of these responses relative to survival of these vulnerable early lifestage fish. With mortality being on a time continuum, determining when copper first affects swimming ability helps us to understand the implications for population level effects. The techniques used are readily adaptable to experimental designs with other organisms and stressors.