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Horm Behav. 2001 Nov;40(3):419-27.

Stress responsiveness affects dominant-subordinate relationships in rainbow trout.

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NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Windermere Laboratory, The Ferry House, Far Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0LP, United Kingdom.


The magnitude by which plasma cortisol levels increase following exposure to a stressor is a heritable trait in rainbow trout. The relative growth in coculture of F1 lines selected for high responsiveness (HR) and low responsiveness (LR) to a confinement stressor suggested that behavioral characteristics related to food acquisition, aggression, or competitive ability might differ between the two lines. This hypothesis was tested using the F2 generation of the selected lines. The F2 lines clearly exhibited the characteristics of the F1 parents, displaying significantly divergent plasma cortisol responses to a 1-h confinement stressor and a high heritability for the trait. Behavioral differences between the lines were assessed by observing the outcome of staged fights for dominance in size-matched pairs of HR and LR fish. The identification of dominant and subordinate fish within each pair on the basis of their behavior was supported by the levels of blood cortisol in the fish attributed to each group (dominant << subordinate). Fish from the LR line were identified as dominant in significantly more trials than were HR individuals. The results suggest that behavioral attributes that affect the outcome of rank-order fights are closely linked to the magnitude of the plasma cortisol response to stress in rainbow trout. Whether the link is causal or circumstantial is not yet evident.

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