Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 86, Issue 3, pp 403–409 | Cite as

The effects of habitat complexity on aggression and fecundity in zebrafish (Danio rerio)

  • Aaron G. Carfagnini
  • F. Helen RoddEmail author
  • Kayin B. Jeffers
  • Ashley E. E. Bruce


Female zebrafish housed in aquaria with spatial complexity (plastic plants) over a 13–16-week period showed reduced levels of aggressive behavior compared to females in bare tanks. In tanks with plants, there was no relationship between levels of aggression and fecundity but, in bare tanks, females experiencing the highest levels of aggression showed reduced fecundity. Our results suggest that it may be beneficial, when maintaining zebrafish at moderate to high densities or working with especially aggressive strains, to house them in spatially complex conditions.


Habitat complexity Zebrafish Danio rerio Aggression Fecundity 



We thank Brian Khoo and Claire Kuo for excellent fish care; Ben Lindsey for assistance with the behavior observations; Don Jackson and Locke Rowe for statistical advice; James Burns and Anna Price for discussion; and David Noakes and anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. We thank the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to HR and AB, and a Connaught Start-Up award to AB for funding.


  1. Andersen SS (2003) Model system. Methods Cell Sci 25:vii–viiiCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Basquill SP, Grant JWA (1998) An increase in habitat complexity reduces agression and monopolization of food by zebrafish (Danio rerio). Can J Zool 76:770–772CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brand M, Granato M, Nusslein-Volhard C (2002) Keeping and raising zebrafish. In: Nusslein-Volhard C, Dahn R (eds) Zebrafish a practical approach. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 7–38Google Scholar
  4. Breau C, Grant JWA (2002) Manipulating territory size via vegetation structure: optimal size of area guarded by the convict cichlid (Pisces, Cichlidae). Can J Zool 80:376–380CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Campbell PM, Pottinger TG, Sumpter JP (1992) Stress reduces the quality of gametes produced by rainbow trout. Biol Repro 47:1140–1150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Campbell PM, Pottinger TG, Sumpter JP (1994) Preliminary evidence that chronic confinement stress reduces the quality of gametes produced by brown and rainbow trout. Aquaculture 120:151–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chen E, Ekker SC (2004) Zebrafish as a genomics research model. Curr Pharm Biotechnol 5:409–413CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Contreras-Sanchez WM, Schreck CB, Fitzpatrick MS et al (1998) Effects of stress on the reproductive performance of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Biol Repro 58:439–447CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Corkum LD, Cronin DJ (2004) Habitat complexity reduces aggression and enhances consumption in crayfish. J Ethol 22:23–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Delaney M, Follet C, Ryan N et al (2002) Social interaction and distribution of female zebrafish (Danio rerio) in a large aquarium. Biol Bull 203:240–241CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Eason PK, Stamps JA (1992) The effects of visibility on territory size and shape. Behav Ecol 3:166–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eaton RC, Farley RD (1974) Spawing cycle and egg production of zebrafish, Brachydanio rerio, in the laboratory. Copeia 1:195–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ellis T, James JD, Stewart C et al (2004) A non-invasive stress assay based upon measurement of free cortisol released into the water by rainbow trout. J Fish Biol 65:1233–1252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hamilton IM, Dill LM (2002) Monopolization of food by zebrafish (Danio rerio) increases in risky habitats. Can J Zool 80:2164–2169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Höjesjö J, Johnsson J, Böhlin T (2004) Habitat complexity reduces the growth of aggressive and dominant brown trout (Salmo trutta) relative to subordinates. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 56:286–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kemp PS, Armstrong JD, Gilvear DJ (2005) Behavioural responses of juvenile Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) to presence of boulders. River Res Appl 21:1053–1060CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Larson ET, O’Malley DM, Melloni RH Jr (2006) Aggression and vasotocin are associated with dominant-subordinate relationships in zebrafish. Behav Brain Res 167:94–102CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Le Galliard J-F, Fitze PS, Ferrière R et al (2005) Sex ratio bias, male aggression, and population collapse in lizards. Proc Natl Acad Sci 102:18231–18236CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Lukasik P, Radwan J, Tomkins JL (2006) Structural complexity of the environment affects the survival of alternative male reproductive tactics. Evolution 60:399–403PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Marchlewska-Koj A (1997) Sociogenic stress and rodent reproduction. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 21:699–703CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. McClure MM, McIntyre PB, McCune AR (2006) Notes on the natural diet and habitat of eight danionin fishes, including the zebrafish Danio rerio. J Fish Biol 69:553–570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Moretz JA, Martins EP, Robison BD (2007) Behavioral syndromes and the evolution of correlated behavior in zebrafish. Behav Ecol 18:556–562CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Ostrand KG, Cooke SJ, Wahl DH (2004) Effects of stress on largemouth bass reproduction. N Am J Fish Manage 24:1039–1045CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Overli O, Harris CA, Winberg S (1999) Short-term effects of fights for social dominance and the establishment of dominant-subordinate relationships on brain monoamines and cortisol in rainbow trout. Brain Behav Evol 54:263–275CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Sall J, Lehman A (2005) JMP start statistics. SAS Institute Inc. Thomson Brooks/Cole, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  26. Sloman KA, Armstrong JD (2002) Physiological effects of dominance hierarchies: laboratory artefacts or natural phenomena? J Fish Biol 61:1–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Spence R, Smith C (2005) Male territoriality mediates density and sex ratio effects on oviposition in the zebrafish, Danio rerio. Anim Behav 69:1317–1323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Spence R, Fatema MK, Reichard M et al (2006) The distribution and habitat preferences of the zebrafish in Bangladesh. J Fish Biol 69:1435–1448CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sundbaum K, Näslund I (1998) Effects of woody debris on the growth and behaviour of brown trout in experimental stream channels. Can J Zool 76:56–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aaron G. Carfagnini
    • 1
  • F. Helen Rodd
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Kayin B. Jeffers
    • 1
  • Ashley E. E. Bruce
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of Cell and Systems BiologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations