Arechavala-Lopez, P., Caballero-Froilán, J. C., Jiménez-García, M. et al. 2020. Enriched environments enhance cognition, exploratory behaviour and brain physiological functions of Sparus aurata. Scientific Reports 10, 11252.
Environmental enrichment is considered as a recommended tool to guarantee or improve the welfare of captive fish. This study demonstrates for the first time that structural environmental enrichment enhances cognition, exploratory behaviour and brain physiological functions of gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata). Seabream was reared in groups (n = 15) during 60 days under two different treatments: enriched tanks with plant-fibre ropes (EE) or bare/non-enriched tanks (NE). Fish were then exposed to a purpose-built maze for 1 h every second day in four trials. Analysis of video recordings showed that seabream under EE conditions presented higher overall exploratory behaviour, spatial orientation and learning capability compared to seabream from NE conditions. Results from brain monoamines analyses may suggest increased recent dopaminergic activity in telencephalon, known to be involved in learning processes; and increased serotonergic activity in cerebellum, involved in the coordination of balance, movements and orientation. In addition, EE-reared fish showed increased antioxidant activity in whole brain, with no apparent oxidative damage. Structural EE seemed to induce an hormetic response on juvenile seabream, improving their welfare status during captivity. Application of this kind of physical structure might be feasible at fish farms as a passive and non-invasive tool to improve welfare of intensively cultured seabream.