Husbandry of zebrafish, Danio rerio, and the cortisol stress response

Michail Pavlidis, Nikoletta Digka, Antonia Theodoridi, Aurora Campo, Konstantinos Barsakis, Gregoris Skouradakis, Athanasios Samaras, Alexandra Tsalafouta
Zebrafish 2013, 10 (4): 524-31
The effect of common husbandry conditions (crowding, social environment, water quality, handling, and background color) on the cortisol stress response in adult zebrafish, Danio rerio, was investigated to check the usefulness of zebrafish as a model organism in aquaculture research. In addition, a noninvasive methodology for assessing stress was evaluated. Zebrafish showed a fast cortisol response with high values at 30 min that returned to basal levels within 2 h of poststress. There was a significant positive correlation between trunk cortisol concentrations and the free water cortisol rate (r(2)=0.829-0.850, p<0.001), indicating that measurement of the water-borne cortisol release rate may serve as a noninvasive and reliable stress indicator at the population level. Crowding resulted in 13- to 21-fold greater mean trunk cortisol concentrations compared with controls. However, even at low stocking density (2-5 fish/L), the maintenance cost was higher than the one at higher densities (10 fish/L) due to the formation of dominance hierarchies. The background color affected trunk cortisol concentrations, with fish exposed to brighter backgrounds (green and white) showing 3- to 8-fold greater mean trunk cortisol concentrations than fish exposed to a black background or transparent aquaria. Fish exposed to high stocking densities for 2 h or 5 days had similar high mean trunk cortisol levels, indicating that exposure of fish for the period of 2 h to a specific stressor may represent a chronic situation in zebrafish. It is concluded that adult laboratory zebrafish had a preference for a transparent or black background aquarium, at a number of 10 individuals per 2 L of available water volume, to express their normal behavior and avoid increased cortisol stress reaction.

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