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  • The physiological mechanisms underlying variation in aggression in fish remain poorly understood. One possibly confounding variable is the lack of standardization in the type of stimuli used to elicit aggression. The presentation of controlled stimuli in videos, a.k.a. video playback, can provide better control of the fight components. However, this technique has produced conflicting results in animal behaviour studies and needs to be carefully validated. For this, a similar response to the video and an equivalent live stimulus needs to be demonstrated. Further, different physiological responses may be triggered by live and video stimuli and it is important to demonstrate that video images elicit appropriate physiological reactions. Here, the behavioural and endocrine response of male Siamese fighting fish Betta splendens to a matched for size conspecific fighting behind a one-way mirror, presented live or through video playback, was compared. The video playback and live stimulus elicited a strong and similar aggressive response by the focal fish, with a fight structure that started with stereotypical threat displays and progressed to overt attacks. Post-fight plasma levels of the androgen 11-ketotestosterone were elevated as compared to controls, regardless of the type of stimuli. Cortisol also increased in response to the video images, as previously described for live fights in this species. These results show that the interactive component of a fight, and its resolution, are not needed to trigger an endocrine response to aggression in this species. The study also demonstrates for the first time in a fish a robust endocrine response to video stimuli and supports the use of this technique for researching aggressive behaviour in B. splendens.

  • The role of hormones as modulators of aggressive behavior in fish remains poorly understood. Androgens and corticosteroids, in particular, have been associated with aggressive behavior in fish but it is still not clear if animals adjust the secretion of these hormones to regulate behavior during ongoing fights, in response to fight outcomes in order to adjust aggressive behavior in subsequent fights, or both. With its stereotyped displays and high aggression levels, the Siamese fighting fish Betta splendens is an excellent model to investigate this question. Here, we compared the behavioral and endocrine response of male B. splendens to fights where there is no winner or loser by presenting them with a size-matched live interacting conspecific behind a transparent partition or with a mirror image. The aggressive response started with threat displays that were overall similar in frequency and duration towards both types of stimuli. Fights transitioned to overt attacks and interacting with a live conspecific elicited a higher frequency of attempted bites and head hits, as compared with the mirror image. There was a pronounced increase in plasma androgens (11-ketotestosterone and testosterone) and corticosteroids (cortisol) levels in response to the aggression challenge, independent of stimulus type. Post-fight intra-group levels of these hormones did not correlate with measures of physical activity or aggressive behavior. A linear discriminant analysis including all behavioral and endocrine data was a poor classifier of fish from the conspecific and mirror trials, showing that overall the behavioral and endocrine response to mirror images and conspecifics was similar. The results show that fight resolution is not necessary to induce an evident increase in peripheral levels of androgens and corticosteroids in B. splendens. However, the function of these hormones during present and future aggressive contests remains to be clarified.

Last update from database: 4/14/24, 2:40 PM (UTC)

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