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Research article2016Peer reviewed

Distinguishing Arctic charr with different stress coping styles by visual screening of spottiness - reliability and consistency over time

Brännäs, Eva; Backström, Tobias; Nilsson, Jan; Carlberg, Hanna; Magnhagen, Carin; Stien, L.H.


The salmonid fish Arctic charr Salvelinus alpinus shows pronounced individual variation in skin colouration and density of carotenoid-based spots. It has earlier been shown that spot density is a heritable trait, and may be used as an indicator of stress coping style in Arctic charr. Individuals with few spots tend to be more aggressive and less responsive to stress (proactive) than those with many spots (reactive). Here, we evaluate the potential of grading individuals into proactive and reactive individuals by the density of light-coloured spots. This non-invasive method would be useful for selective breeding and to reduce within-treatment variation in biological research. Our aim was to investigate stability of spot density over time and to compare methods to estimate spottiness on Arctic charr, using photographs as well as live fish. The consistency of spot density was significant over a period of 8months, but with stronger correlations between September and December than between May and September. Also, repeatability of spot number was higher between the two last months than when including May. The spots were more stable on the left than the right side, thus, it is more reliable to estimate spottiness on the left side. There was a significant relationship between the ratio of spotted area (rsa) from automated image analysis and number of spots from visual counts. Both methods fitted well into a visual grading into three categories (few, medium and many spots). In another test, a large number of live fish were visually categorized according to spot density. The previous validation process, in combination with a significant family effect showed that large numbers of fish can be effectively graded.


pigmentation; Salvelinus alpinus; stress response; visual screening; selective breeding; salmonids; personality traits

Published in

Journal of Zoology
2016, Volume: 300, number: 3, pages: 213-220