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J Exp Biol. 2002 Aug;205(Pt 16):2535-43.

Behavioural and neuroendocrine effects of environmental background colour and social interaction in Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus).

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  • 1Evolutionary Biology Centre, Department of Limnology, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 20, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden.


In salmonid fish, a darker skin colour has been suggested to signal social subordination. Substratum colour is another factor affecting skin pigmentation in fish; in the present experiment, juvenile Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) were acclimated and allowed to interact in pairs for 5 days on a pale or dark background colour. Skin darkness was quantified prior to and following social interaction. Furthermore, agonistic behaviour and skin darkness were quantified, together with plasma levels of cortisol, adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH), and brain levels of monoamines and monoamine metabolites. The results show that fish interacting on a white background were more aggressive than those interacting on a black background. Social subordination resulted in skin darkening in fish kept on a white background, but not in fish kept on a black background. Furthermore, subordinate fish on a white background showed an elevation of brain norepinephric activity, an effect not seen in subordinate fish on a black background. Subordinate fish on both white and black backgrounds showed a similar activation of the brain serotonergic system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrenal axis. These results support the suggestion that skin darkening in subordinates acts as a social signal announcing social submission.

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