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News Article

Group housing enhances recovery from welfare challenges in laboratory fish


Group-housed fish resumed normal behaviours more quickly than pairs or individuals following common laboratory procedures.

A study has shown that group-housed zebrafish show lower levels of stress when they undergo procedures like fin clipping than those who are housed singly. The research, funded by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), is published in Animal Behaviour.

Increasing numbers of fish are being used in scientific studies, and evidence is growing to show that fish experience stress and respond to pain with mechanisms comparable to mammals. Enriched tanks have been shown to reduce anxiety in fish, and housing in social groups is considered crucial for gregarious fish such as zebrafish (Danio rerio).

Led by Dr Lynne Sneddon at the University of Liverpool, the study compared recovery from common laboratory procedures (anaesthesia and fin clipping) in male zebrafish (AB strain) housed individually, in pairs and in groups of six. The researchers analysed responses which have been established as valid markers of stress, such as erratic movement, time spent at the bottom of the tank and stress hormone (cortisol) levels.

Anaesthesia alone and anaesthesia with fin clipping both had a significant impact on individually housed zebrafish, with these fish showing increased stress and behavioural alterations. The responses of zebrafish housed in groups was less pronounced, with group housed fish resuming normal behaviour more quickly than individuals or pairs, and showing the lowest cortisol increase.

During the study, the researchers also validated the use of water-borne cortisol siphoned from tanks as an accurate and non-invasive measure of physiological stress. This method avoids the need for terminal sampling for measurement of whole body cortisol, helping to reduce the number of fish required for time series studies on physiological stress.

Article: The impact of social context on behaviour and the recovery from welfare challenges in zebrafish, Danio rerio by Lewis J. White, Jack S. Thomson, Kieran C. Pounder, Robert C. Coleman and Lynne U. Sneddon, published in Animal Behaviour (2017) vol. 132, pp. 189-199, doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.08.017

Article details

  • Date
  • 12 October 2017
  • Source
  • University of Liverpool
  • Subject(s)
  • Veterinary medicine