Peter Sorensen, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife

E-MAIL: [email protected]

Research Interests:

My research focuses on the sense of smell and the fundamental role it plays in fish physiology and behavior. So important is this sense that if it is destroyed, most species of fish fail to feed, migrate, and even mate. The sense of smell is also highly sensitive, extremely specific, and easily manipulated: fish olfactory cues represent great tools for manipulating their behavior. Furthermore, because the olfactory system is highly conserved throughout the vertebrate lineage, fish are also excellent models for addressing basic questions of olfactory neurobiology and behavior. My laboratory is one of the few groups in the world that focuses on vertebrate pheromone function and discrimination. My approach is multi-disciplinary and I seek students with basic and applied interests in fisheries biology, neuroscience, animal behavior, and endocrinology. Accordingly, I have graduate appointments in fisheries, neuroscience, ecology, and zoology.

We presently study sex and migratory pheromones in several species of fish. About 10 years ago we identified the first sex pheromones in fish with the discovery that metabolites of sex hormones cause dramatic increases in the behavior and circulating hormone levels of male goldfish. One gram of these pheromones 'activates' 40 billion liters of water! Our discovery of 'hormonal pheromones' has now been extended to over 100 species of fish including many of commercial importance. Presently, we study several species (trout, perch, goldfish, catfish) to determine: 1) whether/how hormonal pheromones are species-specific; 2) how the vertebrate nervous system discriminates pheromonal information; 3) what the precise behavioral functions of these cues are; and 4) how pheromones can be applied to aquaculture and fisheries management.

Particular promise exists in the control of exotic species. We are also actively studying the olfactory biology and migratory behavior of the sea lamprey. Recently, we isolated and identified two unique bile acids from stream-resident larval sea lamprey that adults use to locate spawning streams. We know these cues are released into rivers and are detected with great sensitivity by migrating adults. Now we are evaluating their precise behavioral functions and how they might be used for controlling this exotic species.

We have excellent facilities to conduct these studies. These include a large fish holding facility with state-of-the-art video digitization equipment for studies of behavior, a modern HPLC for analysis of hormones and pheromones, a well-equipped electrophysiology laboratory, and ready access to field sites as well as specialized equipment (microscopy, spectrometry, etc.) at nearby locations.

Selected Publications:

(For a comprehensive list of recent publications, refer to PubMed, a service provided by the National Library of Medicine.)

  • Sato K, Sorensen PW. The Chemical Sensitivity and Electrical Activity of Individual Olfactory Sensory Neurons to a Range of Sex Pheromones and Food Odors in the Goldfish. Chem Senses. 2018 Mar 3;. 
  • Barry TP, Dehnert GK, Hoppe PD, Sorensen PW. Chemicals released by predation increase the growth rate of yellow perch, Perca flavescens. J Fish Biol. 2017;91(6):1730-1736.
  • Zielinski DP, Sorensen PW. Silver, bighead, and common carp orient to acoustic particle motion when avoiding a complex sound. PLoS One. 2017 Jun 27;12(6):e0180110.
  • Claus AW, Sorensen PW. Chemical cues which include amino acids mediate species-specific feeding behavior in invasive filter-feeding bigheaded carps. J Chem Ecol. 2017;43(4):374-384.
  • Sorensen PW, Johnson NS. Theory and application semiochemicals in nuisance fish control. J Chem Ecol. 2016;42(7):698-715
  • Ghosal R, Sorensen PW. Male-typical courtship, spawning behavior, and olfactory sensitivity are induced to different extents by androgens in the goldfish suggesting they are controlled by different neuroendocrine mechanisms. Gen Comp Endocrinol. 2016;232:160-73.
  • Eichmiller JJ, Miller LM, Sorensen PW. Optimizing techniques to capture and extract environmental DNA for detection and quantification of fish. Mol Ecol Resour. 2016;16:56-68.
  • Eichmiller JJ, Bajer PG, Sorensen PW. The relationship between the distribution of common carp and their environmental DNA in a small lake. PLoS One. 2014;9(11):e112611.
  • Hansen A, Ghosal R, Caprio J, Claus AW, Sorensen PW. Anatomical and physiological studies of bigheaded carps demonstrate that the epibranchial organ functions as a pharyngeal taste organ. J Exp Biol. 2014;217(Pt 21):3945-54.
  • Sorensen PW. Behavioral analysis of pheromones in fish. Methods Mol Biol. 2013;1068:293-305.
  • Lim H, Sorensen PW. Common carp implanted with prostaglandin F2α release a sex pheromone complex that attracts conspecific males in both the laboratory and field. J Chem Ecol. 2012;38(2):127-134.

Former Graduate Students:

Leah Hanson (Ph.D. 2001, Neuroscience, University of Minnesota).

Peter Sorensen