Cardiovascular performance of six species of field-acclimatized centrarchid sunfish during the parental care period

Steven J. Cooke, Jason F. Schreer, David H. Wahl, David P. Philipp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parental care is an energetically costly period of the life history of many fish species characterized by extended high intensity activity. To date, there have been no studies that have investigated the cardiovascular correlates of extended parental care in fish. Using Doppler flow probes, the cardiovascular performance of six syntopic centrarchid fish species (N=232) that provide sole, male parental care was examined across a range of water temperatures that encompass their reproductive periods (14-26°C). Experiments were restricted to males but included both nesting and non-nesting individuals to evaluate the cardiovascular performance of fish during parental care. Resting values for cardiac output (Q) and heart rate (fH) tended to be higher for nesting fish when adjusted for variation in temperature. Both of these cardiac variables also increased with water temperature. Stroke volume (Vs) was similar among nesting and non-nesting fish and was generally thermally insensitive. When exposed to exhaustive exercise, nesting fish took longer to exhaust than non-nesting individuals. The high resting levels found in nesting fish accompanied by only minor increases in maximal values typically resulted in reductions in cardiac scope. Cardiovascular variables recovered more quickly in nesting fish, which could facilitate the high activity and bursting associated with parental care. Interspecifically, several cardiovascular variables were correlated with parental care activity. Parental care investment became more energetically expensive as the degree of cardiac frequency modulation decreased. Additionally, as the duration of parental care increased, so did the time required for fish to become exhausted, although this relationship was probably influenced by the fact that the larger species (e.g. smallmouth bass Micropterus dolomleu; largemouth bass Micropterus salmoides) provided the lengthiest care. Collectively, these data indicate that fish that provide parental care possess adaptations, including sufficient phenotypic plasticity, such that they can enhance their ability to provide high intensity protracted care, and emphasize the nexus between behavior and physiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2332-2342
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2010


  • Behavior
  • Cardiac output
  • Cardiovascular performance
  • Centrarchidae
  • Energetics
  • Fitness
  • Heart rate
  • Parental care
  • Physiology
  • Sunfish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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