The effects of early and adult social environment on zebrafish (Danio rerio) behavior

Jason A. Moretz, Emília P. Martins, Barrie D. Robison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Because early social experience can have a profound effect on later mate and social choices, the availability of options and decisions made early in development can have major effects on adult behavior. Herein, we use strain differences among zebrafish, Danio rerio, as an experimental tool to test the effects of social experience on behavior. By manipulating the strain composition of groups in which the subject fish are housed at different ages, we tested (1) whether mixing with dissimilar individuals influenced subsequent behavior, (2) whether prolonged mixing during the juvenile stage had a more pronounced effect than a shorter period of mixing during adulthood and (3) whether mixing had a lasting effect after animals were resorted into groups of same strain animals. We found that social experience had a profound impact on social behavior. Both Nadia and TM1 individuals engaged in more frequent biting after having been in mixed strain groups compared to pure strain groups. This was true of groups mixed as juveniles, as well as adults, indicating that this response was not dependent on exposure during a critical developmental period. Also, TM1 fish (but not Nadia) having recently been housed in mixed-strain groups were more willing to leave the immediate vicinity of a shoal than were TM1 fish raised in pure strain groups. This change was more pronounced in groups mixed as juveniles than as adults. In addition, the observed changes persisted after mixed groups were separated into pure strain groups for a month. Other behavioral measures including Activity Level, Predator Response and Stress Recovery were unaffected by previous social experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-101
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Biology of Fishes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Boldness
  • Social experience
  • Zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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