Ocean Warming Impairs the Predator Avoidance Behaviour of Elasmobranch Embryos

Daniel Ripley, Sara De Giorgio , Kirstin Gaffney, Lowri Thomas, Holly Shiels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Embryogenesis is a vulnerable stage in elasmobranch development due in part to high predation mortality. Embryonic elasmobranchs respond to potential predators by displaying a freezing behaviour, characterised by the cessation of pharyngeal respiration followed immediately by coiling of the tail around the body. We hypothesised that the duration of this freeze response is limited by the embryo’s requirement for oxygen. Here, Scyliorhinus canicula embryos were incubated at either 15˚C or 20˚C during embryogenesis and tested for the duration of, and metabolic response to, the freeze response at their respective incubation temperature. Freeze response duration was negatively impacted by routine metabolic rate; embryos at 20˚C had a 7-fold shorter freeze duration than those at 15˚C, potentially increasing their susceptibility to predation. These data demonstrate the capacity for climate change stressors to affect animal behaviour and suggest that this may occur by eliciting changes in the organism’s metabolism. We suggest altered predator avoidance behaviour is a new factor to consider when assessing the impact of climate change on the conservation and management of oviparous elasmobranch species.
Original languageEnglish
JournalConservation Physiology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 22 May 2021

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