Wild zebrafish sentinels: Biological monitoring of site differences using behavior and morphology

Jeffrey R. Kelly, Sierra G. Shelton, Danita K. Daniel, Anuradha Bhat, Rubina Mondal, Fahren Nipple, Halima Amro, Myra E. Bower, Gabriel Isaac, Gillian McHaney, Emilia P. Martins, Delia S. Shelton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Environmental change poses a devastating risk to human and environmental health. Rapid assessment of water conditions is necessary for monitoring, evaluating, and addressing this global health danger. Sentinels or biological monitors can be deployed in the field using minimal resources to detect water quality changes in real time, quickly and cheaply. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) are ideal sentinels for detecting environmental changes due to their biomedical tool kit, widespread geographic distribution, and well-characterized phenotypic responses to environmental disturbances. Here, we demonstrate the utility of zebrafish sentinels by characterizing phenotypic differences in wild zebrafish between two field sites in India. Site 1 was a rural environment with flowing water, low-hypoxic conditions, minimal human-made debris, and high iron and lead concentrations. Site 2 was an urban environment with still water, hypoxic conditions, plastic pollution, and high arsenic, iron, and chromium concentrations. We found that zebrafish from Site 2 were smaller, more cohesive, and less active than Site 1 fish. We also found sexually dimorphic body shapes within the Site 2, but not the Site 1, population. Advancing zebrafish sentinel research and development will enable rapid detection, evaluation, and response to emerging global health threats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number165
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Behavior
  • Danio rerio
  • Environmental change
  • India
  • Morphology
  • Sentinel
  • Wild zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Chemical Health and Safety


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