Anderson, M. G., Campbell, A. M., Kuhn, D. D. et al. 2022. Impact of environmental complexity and stocking density on affective states of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Animal Cognition 25(5), 1331–1343.

Environmental condition, such as environmental complexity or stocking density, can directly or indirectly influence animal emotion and ultimately, affective state. Affective states of animals can be assessed through judgement bias tests, evaluating responses to ambiguous situations. In this study, we aimed to determine whether environmental complexity and stocking density impacted rainbow trout affective state. Rainbow trout (n = 108) were housed in recirculating aquaculture systems under commercial conditions while trained at tank-level to discriminate between a positively reinforced chamber (feed) in one location and a negative chamber (positive punishment; chase by net for 1 s) in the opposing location. Fish from successful tanks (two out of five tanks) were then housed in treatment tanks of either high- or low- environmental complexity at either high (165 fish/m3) or low (69 fish/m3) stocking density. Trained fish were tested for latencies to approach three intermediate, ambiguous chambers. Fish housed in high-density tanks were faster to enter all chambers than those housed in low-density tanks (8.5 s vs. 15.2 s; P = 0.001), with faster entries into the positive (7.4 s vs. 15.2 s; P = 0.02) and near-negative chambers (10.2 s vs. 17.4 s; P = 0.006), suggesting that these fish were more optimistic to receive a feed reward. Tank complexity did not affect test outcomes. No differences between treatments were observed between body weight, length, and plasma cortisol. Overall, rainbow trout are capable of discriminating between cues during a judgement bias test and fish housed in high-density environments respond more optimistically in ambiguous situations compared to fish in low-density environments.

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