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Keywords:

  • Overwinter;
  • Growth;
  • Lipids;
  • Metal mining;
  • Juvenile fish

Abstract

The winter stress syndrome hypothesis proposes that the combination of winter conditions and contaminant exposure reduces overwinter survival in juvenile fishes, mainly due to increased depletion of stored energy (lipids). To test this hypothesis in the field, juvenile fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas), creek chub (Semotilus atromaculatus), and white sucker (Catostomus commersoni) were collected from three exposure sites along Junction Creek, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, representing cumulative inputs from metal mining and municipal wastewater. Overwinter survival potential was determined through measurements of growth (length, weight, muscle RNA/DNA ratio, muscle proteins) and energy stores (whole body triglycerides) in fish collected just prior to and following the overwinter period. We hypothesized that fish collected from exposure sites would exhibit reduced growth and energy storage compared to reference fish in both fall and spring, and that fish from all sites would exhibit reduced energy storage in spring compared to the previous fall. Whole body Se concentrations were elevated (11–42 μg/g dry wt) in juvenile fathead minnows and white sucker collected at two exposure sites in comparison to fish collected from the reference site (3–6 μg/g dry wt). In contrast to our hypothesis, fathead minnows were larger with greater triglyceride stores at exposure sites compared to the reference site. White suckers were smaller at exposure sites but did not differ in triglycerides among sites. Overall, the results in these fish species exposed to metal mining and municipal wastewaters do not support the winter stress syndrome hypothesis. It is recommended that future studies focus on relating growth and energy storage with other environmental factors such as habitat and food availability in addition to anthropogenic contamination.