"Our findings show that aquatic species and vertebrates, in particular, can have fine control over their release of chemical cues in the same manner as mammals that mark their territories or advertise their reproductive state, for example," says Fisher, a former postdoctoral researcher in Rosenthal's laboratory who is now with the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University.
Rosenthal notes that swordtail fish are considered an important model system in animal communication and are widely used in female mate-choice research. While numerous studies have addressed the role of cues in swordtails from olfactory to visual he says none previously have addressed exactly how and when chemical cues are released.
Rosenthal adds that studying the chemical signals of swordtails is vital not only to understanding how they and similar species communicate, but also because the information could be indicative of several environmental factors that could prove useful in the future. For example, he says, any amount of pollution might disrupt the communication within a species, thereby interfering with the courting and mating process and ultimately affecting the population.
To scientists like Rosenthal, these underwater chemical cues can serve as the proverbial "canary in the coal mine."
"Because these chemicals are rich in information and because they're transmitted through the water at very low concentrations, any change in the environment has the potential to shut down communication," he explains. "The silver lining is that we might be able to use communication behavior as a bioassay that local communities can use to detect pollutants in the water."
|Contact: Chris Jarvis|
Texas A&M University