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Effects of maternal stress and cortisol exposure at the egg stage on learning, boldness and neophobia in brook trout

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The environment experienced by females can have long-lasting effects on offspring phenotype. The objective of this study was to determine if maternal stress-induced behaviour reprogramming in offspring is found in brook char and to test whether cortisol is the main mediator, by separating the potential effects of cortisol from that of other potential maternal factors. We exposed female brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) to different parallel treatments during the oogenesis period: undisturbed as controls (1) fed cortisol through food (2) or physically stressed by handling once a week (3). Additionally, we exposed half of the control eggs to a cortisol suspension before fertilisation (4). Cortisol consumption and handling did not elevate either maternal plasma or egg cortisol, although egg cortisol level was significantly increased when eggs were bathed in the suspension. We measured spatial learning and memory, boldness and neophobia in 6 month-old offspring and found no effects of treatments on learning, memory or behaviour. Our results suggest that the relationship between maternal stress, circulating and egg cortisol levels, other maternal factors, and behavioural reprogramming is context and species-specific.

Affiliations: 1: aDépartement de Biologie and Institut de Biologie Intégrative et des Systèmes, Université Laval, Québec, Québec, Canada G1V 0A6 ; 2: bInstitut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski, Université du Québec à Rimouski, Rimouski, Québec, Canada G5L 2Z9

*Corresponding author’s e-mail address:

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