A Standardized Protocol for Preference Testing to Assess Fish Welfare

This article has been accepted and is currently in production

Abstract

Animal welfare assessment techniques try to take into consideration the specific needs and wants of the animal in question. Providing enrichment (the addition of physical objects or conspecifics in the housing environment) is often a way to give captive animals the opportunity to choose who or what they interact with and how they spend their time. A fundamental component of the aquatic environment that is often overlooked in captivity, however, is the ability for the animal to choose to engage in physical exercise. For many animals, including fish, exercise is an important aspect of their life history, and is known to have many health benefits, including positive changes in the brain and behavior. Here we present a method for assessing habitat preferences in captive animals. The protocol could easily be adapted to look at a variety of environmental factors (e.g., gravel versus sand as a substrate, plastic plants versus live plants, low flow versus high flow of water) in different aquatic species, or for use with terrestrial species. Statistical assessment of preference is carried out using Jacob’s preference index, which ranks the habitats from -1 (avoidance) to +1 (most preferred). With this information, it can be determined what the animal wants from a welfare perspective, including their preferred location.