Habituation and conditioning in gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata): Effects of aversive stimuli, reward and social hierarchies
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonAquaculture Research. 2017, 1-6. 10.1111/are.13463
To tailor the farming environment to a fish species, we should understand the species-specific responses to stimuli, including the degree of adaption and learning. Groups of gilthead sea bream were given a delay Pavlovian conditioning regime using a conditioning stimulus (CS) of light flashes signalling arrival of food. Controls were exposed to light flashes unrelated to feeding. Fish in both treatments showed an initial fear response of moving away from the CS combined with reduced swimming speed. In subsequent trials, the Control fish largely habituated the fleeing response but sustained to respond by reducing the swimming speed. The Conditioning fish also stopped to escape from the CS, but opposed to the Control group they gradually increased their swimming speed in response to the CS. In addition, the number of fish in the feeding/CS area increased and became similar to basal level after around 16 trials. A small and variable proportion of the fish displayed black vertical bands on their body and territorial behaviour, and a social hierarchy could interfere with the processes of habituation and conditioning. The swimming speed of the fish increased with number of dark individuals, but this was not found during the CS and the light stimulus thus seemed to overrule the effect of territorial behaviour. The persistent negative response to light flashes in the Control suggests that fish seemingly adapted to repetitive stressors are still in a state of alertness. The change in the response to light shows the potential for rewarding aversive stimuli to reduce stress.