Nest guarding behaviour of a temperate wrasse differs between sites off Mediterranean CO2 seeps


  • We used high CO2 and ambient site comparisons as a proxy for ocean acidification scenarios.
  • Ocellated wrasse behaviour differed between sites at ambient and high pCO2.
  • Reduced fish guarding activity and time-budget adjustments may occur under future ocean acidification.
  • Behavioural plasticity in fish might represent a strategy to buffer the impacts of ongoing environmental changes.


Organisms may respond to changing environmental conditions by adjusting their behaviour (i.e., behavioural plasticity). Ocean acidification (OA), resulting from anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), is predicted to impair sensory function and behaviour of fish. However, reproductive behaviours, and parental care in particular, and their role in mediating responses to OA are presently overlooked. Here, we assessed whether the nesting male ocellated wrasse Symphodus ocellatus from sites with different CO2 concentrations showed different behaviours during their breeding season. We also investigated potential re-allocation of the time-budget towards different behavioural activities between sites. We measured the time period that the nesting male spent carrying out parental care, mating and exploring activities, as well as changes in the time allocation between sites at ambient (∼400 μatm) and high CO2 concentrations (∼1000 μatm). Whilst the behavioural connectance (i.e., the number of linkages among different behaviours relative to the total amount of linkages) was unaffected, we observed a significant reduction in the time spent on parental care behaviour, and a significant decrease in the guarding activity of fish at the high CO2 sites, with a proportional re-allocation of the time budget in favour of courting and wandering around, which however did not change between sites. This study shows behavioural differences in wild fish living off volcanic CO2 seeps that could be linked to different OA levels, suggesting that behavioural plasticity may potentially act as a mechanism for buffering the effects of ongoing environmental change. A reallocation of the time budget between key behaviours may play a fundamental role in determining which marine organisms are thriving under projected OA.

Spatafora D., Quattrocchi F., Cattano C., Badalamenti F. & Milazzo M., 2021. Nest guarding behaviour of a temperate wrasse differs between sites off Mediterranean CO2 seeps. Science of The Total Environment: 149376. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.149376. Article.

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