Scientific research and public debate on the welfare of animals in human custody is increasing at present. Fish are in this context mentioned with particular attention to the high numbers of individuals reared in aquaculture. Research on fish has also contributed to the understanding of individual variation in the ability to cope with stress and disease. One mediator of such variation is the brain serotonergic (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) system, which conveys physiological and behavioral responses to stress and sub-optimal rearing conditions. Here we study links between the 5-HT response, melanin-based skin pigmentation, and behavior in laboratory-reared Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) experimentally infested with ectoparasitic sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis). Lice numbers were more variable in less pigmented fish, while the neurochemical response to ectoparastic lice-increased levels of the main 5-HT catabolite 5-HIAA in the brain stem-did not differ between pigmentation groups. A strong depression of growth and locomotor activity was seen in all infested fish but less pigmented fish grew better than fish with more skin melanization regardless of infestation status. The observed combination of neurochemical and behavioral effects clearly suggest that animal welfare concerns can be added to the list of negative effects of ectoparasitic sea lice.
Keywords: Behavior; Experimental infestation; Neurochemistry; Parasites; Sea lice.
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