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Environmentally relevant exposure to an antidepressant alters courtship behaviours in a songbird

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DateAccepted/In press - 14 Jul 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jul 2018
DatePublished (current) - Nov 2018
Number of pages8
Pages (from-to)17-24
Early online date20/07/18
Original languageEnglish


Pharmaceuticals in the environment are a recently identified global threat to wildlife, including birds. Like other human pharmaceuticals, the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) enters the environment via sewage and has been detected at wastewater treatment plants. Birds foraging on invertebrates at these sites can be exposed to pharmaceuticals, although the implications of exposure are poorly understood. We conducted experiments to test whether chronic exposure to a maximally environmentally relevant concentration of fluoxetine (2.7 μg day-1) altered courtship behaviour and female reproductive physiology in wild-caught starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), a species commonly found foraging on invertebrates at wastewater treatment plants. When paired with a female over two days, males sang less and were more aggressive towards fluoxetine-treated females than controls. Fluoxetine-treated females were initially aggressive towards males, becoming significantly less aggressive by the second day. In contrast, control females expressed intermediate levels of aggression throughout. We found no effect of female treatment on female courtship behaviour. Female body condition, circulating testosterone and circulating oestradiol were unaffected by treatment and did not account for male preference. Our findings suggest that exposure to an antidepressant reduced female attractiveness, adding to growing evidence that environmental concentrations of pharmaceuticals can alter important traits related to individual fitness and population dynamics.

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© 2018 The Authors

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