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ESR 46:185-191 (2021)  -  DOI:

Serotonin-manipulated juvenile green sea turtles Chelonia mydas exhibit reduced fear-like behaviour

Hiromi Kudo1,*, Minami W. Okuyama2, Kentaro Q. Sakamoto1, Kei Uchida3, Katsufumi Sato1

1Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, The University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Chiba 277-8564, Japan
2Faculty of Medicine, Oita University, Yufu 879-5593, Japan
3Oita environmental conservation forum, Nishishinchi, Oita, Oita 870-0901, Japan
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Animals display fear-like behaviours before escaping from predators. This response triggers both behavioural and physiological changes in multiple body systems, allowing animals to escape danger and ensure survival. Fear-like behaviour is modulated by the serotonergic system in the brain of vertebrates, which shapes social behaviour and cooperative behaviours. Using fluoxetine (FLX), a common pharmaceutical that alters the levels of serotonin in the brain, we aimed to clarify whether the same is true in solitary animals like green turtles Chelonia mydas. Green turtles exhibit individual differences in their response to risk. If fear-related behaviours are regulated by the serotonin system in turtles, the fear-like responses of individuals injected with FLX could change. We therefore assessed the effect of FLX injection on the behavioural responses to a fear stimulus in 9 wild juvenile green turtles in an aquarium setting. We inserted a hand net as a stimulus into the aquarium (within a designated inspection zone) to elicit a fear-like behaviour and measured the time that turtles spent in this zone. All turtles exhibited fear-like behaviour and fled from the stimulus prior to any injection treatment. Turtles with control injection (no FLX) also fled and avoided the inspection zone with the fear stimulus. FLX injection appeared to reduce the turtles’ fear of the stimulus: The total time turtles injected with FLX spent in the inspection zone was significantly longer than for turtles that received a control medium injection. Control turtles fled from the stimulus and were initially vigilant and avoided the area with the stimulus, but then moved throughout the aquarium, including the inspection zone. These data suggest that fear-like behaviour is modulated by the serotonin-mediated nerve system in juvenile green turtles.

KEY WORDS: Fear-like behaviour · Serotonin · Juvenile green sea turtle · Solitary animal

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Cite this article as: Kudo H, Okuyama MW, Sakamoto KQ, Uchida K, Sato K (2021) Serotonin-manipulated juvenile green sea turtles Chelonia mydas exhibit reduced fear-like behaviour. Endang Species Res 46:185-191.

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