Water flow impacts group behavior in zebrafish (Danio rerio)

Piyumika S. Suriyampola, Delawrence J. Sykes, Anuj Khemka, Delia S. Shelton, Anuradha Bhat, Emília P. Martins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Constant temporal and spatial fluctuations of the physical environment pose a great challenge for individual survival, making plastic behavioral responses an important mechanism for coping with environmental fluctuations. For aquatic animals, water flow is one of the most important factors, imposing additional physiological costs and changing their relationship with the biotic environment including conspecifics, predators, and disease agents. Here, we conducted a controlled laboratory experiment to test the influence of water flow on the behavior of zebrafish (Danio rerio), considering also the impact of obstructions. Using wild-caught zebrafish, we formed groups of 6 fish and tested their behavior in 4 treatments that varied in water flow and obstructions. We used automated tracking software to estimate shoal cohesion, aggression, and activity level. Zebrafish strongly responded to the presence of even a weak flow by forming less cohesive, more aggressive, and more active groups. The effect of flow was not exaggerated by turbulence generated from obstructions. Zebrafish were also more active and more aggressive when in a structurally complex context. These findings highlight the plasticity of zebrafish social behavior and provide insight to understand the impact of water flow on behavioral plasticity of social groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)94-100
Number of pages7
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Activity
  • Aggression
  • Flow condition
  • Plasticity
  • Shoal cohesion
  • Zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Water flow impacts group behavior in zebrafish (Danio rerio)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this