Warmer temperatures lead to bad parents

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Global warming might lead to a rash of bad parenting, according to a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Environmental Biology.

Kathryn Hopkins, Brian Moss and Andrew Gill demonstrated that Threespine sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) adversely affected parental care behaviour when the water temperatures were elevated. 

The authors carried out two experiments in which ambient water temperatures were raised by 2–6°C above the ambient temperature of 16–17°C over the course of a single breeding season and the changes in the parental-care behaviour.

The authors found that at elevated temperatures, the male sticklebacks were more likely to die, spent less time building and maintaining nests, were less likely to incubate fertilised eggs, and bred less successfully.

They also recorded a significant alteration in the male parental-care behaviour at elevated temperatures, whereby the males spent more time fanning the eggs and fanned faster (the increased metabolic cost of the additional fanning may be a reason for the early demise of the male fish).

The authors conclude that "..because sticklebacks are relatively tolerant, shallow water fish compared with other temperate species, the implications of our study are that many other species will be more seriously affected by global warming, which may be expected to induce major changes in fish populations and communities, and in the ecosystems in which they play key roles through trophic cascades."

For more information, see the paper: Hopkins, K, BR Moss and AB Gill (2010) Increased ambient temperature alters the parental care behaviour and reproductive success of the three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Environmental Biology of Fishes doi: 10.1007/s10641-010-9724-8