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How the antidepressants we take could be changing the mating behaviours of fish

Millions of people around the world use antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication; but few probably realise just how much of these medications end up in the environment. Once these medications are expelled from our bodies, they end up in our sewage systems and, ultimately, our aquatic systems.

Our aquatic animals now exist, almost literally, in a sea of antidepressants and these drugs have the potential to influence the behaviour of these animals. Studies by Australian reproductive health researchers show that exposure of fish to antidepressants changes their mating behaviour which could ultimately influence entire ecosystems.

Australian scientists are revealing how pharmaceutical pollutants are a growing environmental concern for our wildlife and particularly our aquatic environments. When male fish are exposed to a constituent of the drug Prozac, they actually try to copulate more often and produce more sperm – but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, the female fish of the same species can be put off mating altogether when confronted by an over-eager male.

Ecosystems exist in a delicate balance, and a change in the reproductive behaviour of one animal can have major consequences for the rest of the ecosystem.

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Baby corals are declining in the Great Barrier Reef

The numbers of baby corals settling in the Great Barrier Reef has reduced by almost 90% to historically low levels, according to Australian research published in Nature.

After unprecedented bleaching events caused by climate change, coral reproduction, has shown an unprecedented decline. Coral reproduce by spawning, releasing millions of bursts of sperm and eggs onto the ocean surface. The fertilised eggs and larvae move about on the ocean currents until they settle in new areas to create new coral colonies.

Coral reproduction is essential for repair of the reef after the major death of existing coral colonies to due bleaching events; the fact that fewer colonies are repopulating the reef exposes another vulnerability in the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem.