Gilmour, K. M., Bard, B. 2022. Social buffering of the stress response: Insights from fishes. Biology Letters 18(10), 20220332.

Social buffering of stress refers to the effect of a social partner in reducing the cortisol or corticosterone response to a stressor. It has been well studied in mammals, particularly those that form pair bonds. Recent studies on fishes suggest that social buffering of stress also occurs in solitary species, gregarious species that form loose aggregations and species with well-defined social structures and bonds. The diversity of social contexts in which stress buffering has been observed in fishes holds promise to shed light on the evolution of this phenomenon among vertebrates. Equally, the relative simplicity of the fish brain is advantageous for identifying the neural mechanisms responsible for social buffering. In particular, fishes have a relatively small and simple forebrain but the brain regions that are key to social buffering, including the social behaviour network, the amygdala and the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal/interrenal axis, are functionally conserved across vertebrates. Thus, we suggest that insight into the mechanistic and evolutionary underpinnings of stress buffering in vertebrates can be gained from the study of social buffering of stress in fishes.