ABSTRACT

Anthropogenic noise is considered a major underwater pollutant as increasing ocean background noise due to human activities is impacting aquatic organisms. One of the most prevalent anthropogenic sounds is boat noise. Although motorboat traffic has increased in the past few decades, its impact on the communication of fish is still poorly known. The highly vocal Lusitanian toadfish (Halobatrachus didactylus) is an excellent model to test the impact of this anthropogenic stressor as it relies on acoustic communication to attract mates. Here, we performed two experiments to test the impact of boat noise on the acoustic communication of the Lusitanian toadfish. Using the auditory evoked potential (AEP) technique, we first compared the maximum distance a fish can perceive a boatwhistle (BW), the mate attraction acoustic signal, before and after embedding it in boat noise. Noises from a small motorboat and from a ferryboat reduced the active space from a control value of 6.4–10.4 m to 2.0–2.5 m and 6.3–6.7 m, respectively. In the second experiment we monitored the acoustic behaviour of breeding males exposed to boat noise playbacks and we observed an increase in the inter-onset interval of BWs and a disruption of the usual vocal interactions between singing males. These results demonstrate that boat noise can severely reduce the acoustic active space and affect the chorusing behaviour in this species, which may have consequences in breeding success for individuals and could thus affect fitness.

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