John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Long‐term water quality data explain inter‐population variation in responsiveness to stress in sticklebacks at both wastewater effluent‐contaminated and uncontaminated sites

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The magnitude of the corticosteroid response to a standardised stressor varied in proportion to the concentration of effluent in three‐spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus L.) captured downstream of 10 wastewater treatment works (WWTW). However, at 9 sites with no upstream WWTW input inter‐population variation in the reactivity of the stress axis occurred across a similar range to that seen for fish at impacted sites, suggesting that the factor(s) responsible for modulating stress responsiveness in sticklebacks are not unique to sites receiving WWTW effluent. Physicochemical data from a long‐term monitoring programme were employed to investigate whether variation in water quality contributed to between‐site variation in stress axis reactivity. Between‐site variation in fourteen water quality determinands explained between 30% and 60% of the variation in stress reactivity, and fish size, for sticklebacks at both WWTW‐contaminated and uncontaminated sites. At uncontaminated sites the mean mass and length of sticklebacks increased with total oxidised N concentration (as an indicator of anthropogenic input) whereas at WWTW‐contaminated sites fish size decreased with increasing effluent concentration, suggesting that factors adversely affecting growth were present predominantly at WWTW‐contaminated sites. In contrast, at contaminated and uncontaminated sites the magnitude of the corticosteroid response to a standardised stressor increased with anthropogenic input (effluent concentration or total oxidised N respectively), indicating that factor(s) modulating the reactivity of the stress axis may be present at both WWTW‐contaminated and uncontaminated sites. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved

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