MEPS 329:1-11 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps329001

Behavioral impairment and increased predation mortality in cutthroat trout exposed to carbaryl

Jana S. Labenia1, David H. Baldwin1, Barbara L. French1, Jay W. Davis2, Nathaniel L. Scholz1,*

1NOAA Fisheries, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Boulevard E, Seattle, Washington 98112, USA
2US Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, 510 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey, Washington 98503, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Willapa Bay is a coastal estuary in Washington State that provides seasonal rearing habitat for anadromous cutthroat trout Oncorhynchus clarki clarki. Cutthroat trout forage throughout the estuary in the summer months when carbaryl, a carbamate insecticide, is applied to oyster beds via aerial spraying and other application methods to control burrowing shrimp populations. The insecticide interferes with normal nervous system function in trout via the inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that regulates neurotransmitter-mediated signaling at synapses. In the present study, we show that the olfactory system of trout is unresponsive to carbaryl, and that trout do not avoid seawater containing the pesticide at environmentally representative concentrations. Short-term (6 h) carbaryl exposures significantly reduced acetylcholinesterase activity in both brain and muscle in a dose-dependent manner. Enzyme activity gradually recovered over 42 h following carbaryl exposure (6 h at 500 µg l–1). In tests of swimming performance, trout were unable to orient to directional flow and swim effectively at exposure concentrations ≥750 µg l–1. Finally, we determined rates of predation by lingcod Ophiodon elongatus on carbaryl-exposed and unexposed trout. Exposed animals were consumed by predators at significantly higher rates at concentrations ≥500 µg l–1. We conclude that cutthroat trout are unlikely to avoid carbaryl-contaminated seawater, and that estuarine applications are likely to cause neurobehavioral impairments in trout that may increase individual mortality due to predation.


KEY WORDS: Pesticide · Behavioral avoidance · Carbamate · Acetylcholinesterase · Olfaction · Predation · Trout · Estuary


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