Scientists are increasingly warning that prescription drugs can affect wildlife and ecosystems when they find their way into the environment. In a new Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry study, investigators found that the anxiety and depression drug Escitalopram—at concentrations similar to those measured in the environment—can inhibit fish foraging and eating behaviour.
Interestingly, the team noted that the two sexes respond differently to the drug. Specifically, the inhibitory effect of the drug was more pronounced in males than in females.
“It is disturbing that psychoactive drugs affect vital life processes in aquatic wildlife,” said corresponding author Erik Baatrup, PhD, of Aarhus University, in Denmark.
These psychoactive drugs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) have been found in natural waters around the world and have been found to inhibit fish feeding behaviour.
These researchers monitored the effect of escitalopram on zebrafish swimming patterns, showing a more pronounced effect on male fish compared to females. Foraging was reduced by 42% in males and 27% in females.
Like other SSRIs, escitalopram leaching into our rivers can inhibit fish foraging behaviour and therefore potentially disturb natural food chains.