Anthropogenic change is expected to alter environments at alarming rates. To predict the impact of modified environments on social behavior, we must study the relationship between environmental features and collective behavior in a genetically tractable model, zebrafish (Danio rerio). Here, we conducted a field study to examine the relationship between salient environmental features and collective behavior in four populations of zebrafish. We found zebrafish in flowing water formed volatile groups, whereas those in still water had more consistent membership and leadership. Groups in fast-flowing water were large (up to 2000 fish) and tightly knit with short nearest neighbor distances, whereas group sizes were smaller (11 fish/group) with more space between individual fish in still and slow-flowing water. These observations point to a possible profound role of water flow in influencing collective behavior in wild zebrafish.
Keywords: collective behavior; environment; field study; vegetation; water flow; zebrafish.