Shoaling behavior in zebrafish

Social behavior is a hot topic in neuroscience research because it is often affected in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. Social dysfunction can have a severe impact on daily functioning, making these symptoms the target of behavioral therapies. Of course, rodents are often used for these types of studies, but some paradigms have successfully been translated to zebrafish studies as well. 

One example is the shoaling test that measures the average distance between fish in groups. Research varies from more fundamental studies on the effect of group sizes and differences in coloration, patterning, gender, and fish size to more applied studies that investigate the effects of pharmaceuticals and environmental factors.

In this video you can see how EthoVision XT accurately tracks each individual zebrafish.

Shoaling behavior

When fish swim together in groups, this is called shoaling. The degree of shoaling is reflected in the distances between the fish in the group, and seems to be the most straightforward expression of social behavior in zebrafish.

Automated tracking

The traditional method of this research includes taking screenshots every ten seconds of a trial, and then measuring the inter-fish distances by hand. This can be done faster and more reliably with automated video tracking. EthoVision XT can track multiple animals simultaneously, even without the use of markers. Inter-fish distances are automatically measured each sample point (each frame), giving you a highly accurate average inter-fish distance.

Parameters of interest

Typically used parameters include the average distance between fish, the distances between nearest and farthest neighbor, and the duration of proximity. of course these parameters are calculated by EthoVision XT. You can visualize your data alongside the video and track of your fish. Easy export options allow further analysis in advanced statistical packages.

Find out more

Other social behavior paradigms for zebrafish include the social preference test. Read about shoaling and social preference:

Some publications that might interest you:

  • Engeszer, R.E.; Ryan, M.J.; Parichy, D.M. (2004). Learned social preference in zebrafish. Current Biology, 14, 881-884.
  • Green, J.; Collins, C.; Davis, A.; Kyzar, E.; Pham, M; El-Ounsi, M.; Roth, A.; Gaikwad, S.; Lansdman, S.; Cachat, J.; Grieco, F.; Tegelenbosch, R.; Noldus, L.; Kalueff, A.V. (2012). Towards automated highthroughput neurophenotyping of zebrafish social (shoaling) behavior. Society for Neuroscience SfN-2012 Abstract book, New Orleans, USA.
  • Grossman, L.; Utterback, E.; Stewart, A.; Gaikwad, S.; Chung, K.M.; Suciu, C.; Wong, K.; Elegante, M.; Elkhayat, S.; Tan, J.; Gilder, T.; Wu, N.; DiLeo, J.; Kalueff, A.V. (2010). Characterization of behavioral and endocrine effects of LSD on zebrafish. Behavioural Brain Research, 214, 277-284.
  • Kalueff, A.V.; Schmidt, M.V. (2011) Novel experimental models and paradigms for neuropsychiatric disorders: editorial. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 35,1355-1356. 
  • Kyzar, E.J.; Collins, C.; Gaikwad, S.; Green, J.; Roth, A.; Monnig, L.; El-Ounsi, M.; Davis, A.; Freeman, A.; Capezio, N.; Steward, A.M.; Kalueff, A.V. (2012) Effects of hallucinogenic agents mescaline and phencyclidine on zebrafish behavior and physiology. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry37(1), 194-202.
  • Miller, N.; Gerlai, R. (2007). Quantification of shoaling behaviour in zebrafish (Danio rerio). Behavioural Brain Research, 184, 157-166.
  • Ruhl, N.; McRobert, S.P. (2005). The effect of sex and shoal size on shoaling behaviour in Danio rerio. Journal of Fish Biology, 67, 1318-1326.
  • Saverino, C.; Gerlai, R. (2008). The social zebrafish: Behavioral responses to conspecific, heterospecific, and computer animated fish. Behavioural Brain Research, 191(1), 77-87.
  • Savio, L.E.B.; Vuaden, F.C.; Piato, A.L.; Bonan, C.D.; Wyse, A.T.S. (2012). Behavioral changes induced by long-term proline exposure are reversed by antipsychotics in zebrafish. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, 36, 258-263.
  • Stewart, A.; Gaikwad, S.; Kyzar, E.; Green, J.; Roth, A.; Kalueff, A.V. (2012). Modeling anxiety using adult zebrafish: a conceptual review. Neuropharmacology62, 135-143.