Fighting zebrafish: characterization of aggressive behavior and winner-loser effects

Zebrafish. 2011 Jun;8(2):73-81. doi: 10.1089/zeb.2011.0690. Epub 2011 May 25.


Aggression is a key component of the behavioral repertoire of animals that impacts on their Darwinian fitness. The available genetic tools in zebrafish make this species a promising vertebrate neurogenetic model for the study of neural circuits underlying aggressive behavior. For this purpose, a detailed characterization of the aggressive behavior and its behavioral consequences is first needed. In this article we establish a simple protocol that reliably elicits the expression of fighting behavior in zebrafish dyads and characterized it. The agonistic behavior expressed during dyadic fighting behavior has a temporal structure, indicating the existence of an underlying architecture prone to genetic manipulation. Social interactions have consequences for subsequent behavior with a potential fitness impact, which stresses the validity of this species for the study of aggression. These effects of experience seem to be mediated by different mechanisms in winners and losers. Winners increase the probability of winning subsequent fights without changing their fighting behavior, suggesting the existence of social status cues. On the other hand, losers decrease the probability of winning subsequent fights by decreasing their motivation to escalate fights. Together, these results are a first step to the development of a quantitative framework for the study of aggressive behavior in zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agonistic Behavior*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Male
  • Zebrafish / physiology*