Using acoustic telemetry to assess behavioral responses to acute hypoxia and ammonia exposure in farmed rainbow trout of different competitive ability

Fish Stress coping style Behavior Wireless sensors Aquaculture Stress


As other vertebrates, fish differ on an individual basis in their responses to disturbance (i.e. stress) and in their capacity for adaptation to environmental change. This individual stress-coping style (SCS) might have an impact on the individual welfare in aquaculture facilities. However, most of the studies about the behavioral and physiological stress responses of fish with different SCS were performed under conditions very unlike usual rearing conditions. Therefore, we aimed in the current study at investigating the behavioral and physiological responses of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) of different SCS to common aquaculture stressors (exposure to hypoxia or high ammonia) under realistic conditions. We first screened the fish according to their competitive ability, as a proxy of SCS, separating the best and worst competitors (winners, W, and losers, L, respectively). Then, we evaluated the behavioral (using both telemetric and video-monitoring approaches) and physiological response of both groups upon exposure to increasing levels of hypoxia and ammonia. Overall, increasing hypoxia induced a slight but progressive decrease in fish activity, independently of the fish SCS. High concentrations of total ammonia induced an increase of certain behavioral displays, such as swimming bursts or approaches to the surface, the latter being overall more frequent in W than in L fish. At the specific stress levels tested (hypoxia: 50 % oxygen saturation; total ammonia: 2.91 mM), the physiological stress markers showed that the behavioral response to ammonia was probably driven by stress, while the behavioral response of the fish to hypoxia was just a behavioral adjustment to accommodate the decrease in oxygen availability. In conclusion, our data show that fish of different competitive ability showed similar activity patterns in routine conditions or when adapting to non-stressful conditions (50 % oxygen saturation) in an aquaculture-like setup, but differed in their behavioral response when exposed to stress (high water ammonia). In addition, our data support the use of acoustic accelerometer transmitters as a promising tool for real-time monitoring of fish welfare in commercial fish farms.