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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Boldness, activity, and aggression: Insights from a large-scale study in Baltic salmon (Salmo salar L)

Axling, Johanna; Vossen, Laura E.; Peterson, Erik; Winberg, Svante


Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) display high levels of agonistic behavior in aquaculture farms, resulting in fin damage and chronic stress. Aggression affects fish growth and performance negatively, and presents a serious welfare problem. Indeed, it would be beneficial to identify, separate or exclude overly aggressive individuals. Research on behavioral syndromes suggests that aggressive behavior may correlate with other behavioral traits, such as boldness and locomotory activity. We aimed to develop a high-throughput method to quantify and predict aggressive behavior of individual parr in hatchery-reared Baltic salmon (Salmo salar L.). We screened approximately 2000 parr in open field (OF) and mirror image stimulation (MIS) tests. We extracted seven variables from video tracking software for each minute of the tests; distance moved and duration moving (activity), the duration in and number of entries to the center of the arena (boldness), the distance moved in and duration spent in the area adjacent to the mirror during the MIS test (aggressiveness) and head direction (lateralization). To investigate the relationship between activity, boldness and aggression we first correlated the first six variables to one another. Second, we assigned individuals to high, medium, low or zero aggression groups based on the MIS test and quantified activity and boldness in each group. Third, we analyzed whether the fish viewed the mirror with the left or right eye. Our results show that medium and low aggressive fish were the most active, while highly aggressive fish showed average activity. Aggressive groups did not differ in boldness. Activity and boldness were positively correlated. Finally, we detected a preference for fish to view the mirror with the left eye. We conclude that aggressiveness cannot be predicted from the results of the OF test alone but that the MIS test can be used for large-scale individual aggression profiling of juvenile salmon.

Published in

2023, Volume: 18, number: 7, article number: e0287836