We examined the effects of dietary methylmercury on the production of testosterone in and the reproductive behavior of male fish. Juvenile fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) were fed one of three diets contaminated with methylmercury at concentrations of 0.06 (control), 0.87 (low), and 3.93 (medium) μg Hg/g dry weight. After attaining sexual maturity, fish were paired for mating, and male behaviors were recorded. Carcass mercury and plasma testosterone concentrations also were measured. No significant differences were found in the amount of time spent by male fish in nest preparation or courtship activities, but dietary methylmercury suppressed mating behavior. Fish that were fed control diets spent approximately 5% of their time spawning; fish that were fed methylmercury-contaminated diets spent approximately 0.5% of their time spawning. Total mercury concentration in the carcass was not correlated with any individual reproductive behavior but was correlated with hypoactivity. Fish that were fed the low- and medium-methylmercury diets and with mean carcass concentrations of 0.71 to 4.2 μg Hg/g dry weight spent an average of 19 to 26% of their time being inactive; control fish with an average of 0.07 μg Hg/g dry weight spent only 8% of their time being inactive. No significant difference was found in testosterone concentrations among dietary treatments; however, testosterone was positively correlated with individual nest preparatory, courtship, and spawning behaviors and negatively correlated with the total amount of time spent in all nonreproductive behaviors. The relation between testosterone, reproductive behavior, and spawning success suggests that altered behavior is, in part, responsible for suppression of reproduction in methylmercury-exposed fish. Moreover, reproductive behavior may be more sensitive than steroid hormones to alteration by dietary methylmercury.
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