Sub-Lethal Effects of Neurodegenerative Cyanotoxins

Project Title: Evaluation of sub-lethal effects of neurodegenerative cyanotoxins on predator-prey interactions in a freshwater fish

Principal Investigator(s): Dr. Jessica L. Ward, Assistant Professor, Ball State University, Department of Biology

Project Staff/Co-Investigator(s): Dr. Jennifer C. Latimer, Indiana State University, Department of Earth and Environmental Systems

Dates: March 1, 2018 – February 28, 2019

Total Federal Funds:  Total Non-Federal Funds:

Project Reports
Project Factsheet

Cyanobacteria are prevalent blue-green algae that impact Midwestern freshwater systems, important environmental and economic resources. Emerging evidence suggests that exposure to neurotoxic compounds can induce sub-lethal behavioral and central nervous system (CNS) changes that have potential to affect individual fitness. Because behaviors are regulated though the CNS and proper neuronal function is essential to organismal responses to relevant ecological stimuli (e.g., predators, prey, or abiotic environmental cues), neurodevelopmental disturbances could (i) reduce larval recruitment to adult stocks, resulting in declines in native population densities and altered community function, and/or (ii) accelerate the rate of transfer through the food chain through increased predation risk. The long-term goal of this research is to evaluate the significance of emerging algal neurotoxins for fish populations and aquatic communities. As a first step toward this goal, this project will use single-chemical, lab-controlled exposures to quantify the effects of neurodegenerative cyanotoxins on the sensorimotor performance of fish at two life stages; early development and maturity. Specifically, this research will test the central hypothesis that chronic, low-dose exposure to neurodegenerative cyanotoxins could alter the outcomes of species interactions through deterioration in motor function. Despite reports of impaired motor function in humans linked to the consumption of contaminated fish, the effects of these compounds on the fish themselves is largely unknown. Given this deficit, this research will collect data on the swimming performance of fish during prey-tracking and escape from predators. The results will fill critical gaps in knowledge regarding the short- and long-term effects of sub-lethal exposure to algal neurotoxins on fish and provide direct insight into the factors affecting routes of human exposure and health risks. In addition, this research will provide training for graduate and undergraduate students in research, data analysis, and peer-reviewed written and oral dissemination of scientific information.