Behavioural stress responses predict environmental perception in European sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax)

PLoS One. 2014 Sep 29;9(9):e108800. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108800. eCollection 2014.


Individual variation in the response to environmental challenges depends partly on innate reaction norms, partly on experience-based cognitive/emotional evaluations that individuals make of the situation. The goal of this study was to investigate whether pre-existing differences in behaviour predict the outcome of such assessment of environmental cues, using a conditioned place preference/avoidance (CPP/CPA) paradigm. A comparative vertebrate model (European sea bass, Dicentrarchus labrax) was used, and ninety juvenile individuals were initially screened for behavioural reactivity using a net restraining test. Thereafter each individual was tested in a choice tank using net chasing as aversive stimulus or exposure to familiar conspecifics as appetitive stimulus in the preferred or non preferred side respectively (called hereafter stimulation side). Locomotor behaviour (i.e. time spent, distance travelled and swimming speed in each tank side) of each individual was recorded and analysed with video software. The results showed that fish which were previously exposed to appetitive stimulus increased significantly the time spent on the stimulation side, while aversive stimulus led to a strong decrease in time spent on the stimulation side. Moreover, this study showed clearly that proactive fish were characterised by a stronger preference for the social stimulus and when placed in a putative aversive environment showed a lower physiological stress responses than reactive fish. In conclusion, this study showed for the first time in sea bass, that the CPP/CPA paradigm can be used to assess the valence (positive vs. negative) that fish attribute to different stimuli and that individual behavioural traits is predictive of how stimuli are perceived and thus of the magnitude of preference or avoidance behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior
  • Bass / blood
  • Bass / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Environment*
  • Europe
  • Perception*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Restraint, Physical
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Swimming
  • Time Factors

Grant support

This research project has been support by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme FP7–KBBE-2010-4 Contract n°: 265957 Copewell. The work of Sandie Millot is supported by the Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (FCT) grant n°: FRH/BPD/72952/2010. The PhD of Marco Cerqueira is supported by the FCT grant n°: SFRH/BD/80029/2011. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.