Gaffney, L. P., Franks, B., Weary, D. M. et al. 2016. Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) prefer and are less aggressive in darker environments. PLOS ONE 11(3), e0151325.
Fish are capable of excellent vision and can be profoundly influenced by the visual properties of their environment. Ambient colours have been found to affect growth, survival, aggression and reproduction, but the effect of background darkness (i.e., the darkness vs. lightness of the background) on preference and aggression has not been evaluated systematically. One-hundred Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), a species that is increasing in popularity in aquaculture, were randomly assigned to 10 tanks. Using a Latin-square design, every tank was bisected to allow fish in each tank to choose between all the following colour choices (8 choices in total): black vs. white, light grey, dark grey, and a mixed dark grey/black pattern, as well as industry-standard blue vs. white, light grey, dark grey, and black. Fish showed a strong preference for black backgrounds over all other options (p < 0.01). Across tests, preference strength increased with background darkness (p < 0.0001). Moreover, having darker backgrounds in the environment resulted in less aggressive behaviour throughout the tank (p < 0.0001). These results provide the first evidence that darker tanks are preferred by and decrease aggression in salmonids, which points to the welfare benefits of housing farmed salmon in enclosures containing dark backgrounds.