Stand by me : how fish can benefit from company

Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2019

Three orange fish

If humans often rely on social relationships with family and friends to mitigate the negative effects of stress, the effects that social buffering offers against stress can benefit fish too.

A new study co-authored by former University of Ottawa student Brett Culbert (currently a PhD student at the University of Guelph), University of Ottawa’s department of Biology Professor Kathleen Gilmour and Professor Sigal Balshine from McMaster University, looks at whether social interactions help fish deal with stress.

The results show that the group-living fish Neolamprologus pulcher benefited from being with others when they are stressed. Fish recovered from a stressor more quickly when with others, had lower levels of stress hormones and resumed normal behaviour more quickly compared to fish that recovered by themselves.

According to lead author Brett Culbert, the study highlights the widespread benefits that social relationships have across animals.

‘‘ In general, I think that it is important for people to consider that social interactions are critical for almost all animals. Similar to the relaxation that we feel while spending time with family or friends, fish also benefit from positive social interactions. ’’ – Brett Culbert

According to Culbert, previous research on the stress-reducing effects of social interactions has largely focused on mammals. This study shows that similar effects occur in fish. It is also the first study to assess the behavioural and physiological factors that mediate these stress-reducing effects in a non-mammalian animal and identifies several potential differences between mammals and other vertebrates.

The study Social buffering of stress in a group-living fish was published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.

uOttawa alumnus Brett Culbert and uOttawa Professor Kathleen Gilmour are available for interviews in English.


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Justine Boutet
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