Vessel noise affects routine swimming and escape response of a coral reef fish
An increasing number of studies have shown that anthropogenic noise can negatively affect aspects of the anti-predator behaviour of reef fishes, potentially affecting fitness and survival. However, it has been suggested that effects could differ among noise sources. The present study compared two common sources of anthropogenic noise and investigated its effects on behavioural traits critical for fish survival. In a tank-based experiment we examined the effects of noise from 4-stroke motorboats and ships (bulk carriers > 50,000 tonnes) on the routine swimming and escape response of a coral reef fish, the whitetail damselfish (Pomacentrus chrysurus). Both 4-stroke boat and ship noise playbacks affected the fast-start response and routine swimming of whitetail damselfish, however the magnitude of the effects differed. Fish exposed to ship noise moved shorter distances and responded more slowly (higher response latency) to the startle stimulus compared to individuals under the 4-stroke noise treatment. Our study suggests that 4-stroke and ship noise can affect activity and escape response of individuals to a simulated predation threat, potentially compromising their anti-predator behaviour.