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Preference for structured environment in zebrafish (Danio rerio) and checker barbs (Puntius oligolepis)

By Claudia Kistler, Daniel Hegglin, Hanno Würbel, Barbara König

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Information about the welfare and husbandry of pet and laboratory fish is scarce although millions of fish are sold in pet shops and used in laboratory research every year. Inadequate housing conditions can cause behavioural problems also in fish since they are complex animals with sophisticated behaviour. In this study, we investigated the influence of environmental complexity on compartment preference and behaviour in zebrafish (Danio rerio) and checker barbs (Puntius oligolepis). For the preference test, large aquaria were divided by two semi-transparent walls of Plexiglas into an empty compartment, a structured compartment enriched with plants and clay pots, and a smaller compartment in-between, where food was provided. For observation, the empty and structured compartments were divided into six zones of similar size by defining three vertical layers and two horizontal areas (back vs. front area). Seven groups of six to nine zebrafish and seven groups of seven or eight checker barbs were observed on four days each (within a time period of ten days) to assess compartment use and activity, and to assess behavioural diversity and use of zones within compartments. Both zebrafish and checker barbs showed a significant preference for the structured compartment. Nevertheless, in neither species did behavioural diversity differ between the empty and structured compartment. Zebrafish used all zones in both compartments to the same extent. Checker barbs, however, used the structured compartment more evenly than the empty compartment, where they mainly used the lower and middle zones. These results suggest that zebrafish and checker barbs have a preference for complex environments. Furthermore, they indicate that the behavioural and ecological needs of fish may vary depending on species, and recommendations for husbandry should be specified at species level.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 135
Issue 4
Pages 318-327
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.10.014
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Environment
  3. Fish