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Enrichment for Laboratory Zebrafish—A Review of the Evidence and the Challenges

Animals in Science Department, RSPCA, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, West Sussex RH13 9RS, UK
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Lars Lewejohann, Christa Thöne-Reineke, Paulin Jirkof and Helene Richter
Animals 2021, 11(3), 698;
Received: 2 February 2021 / Revised: 3 March 2021 / Accepted: 4 March 2021 / Published: 5 March 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Welfare of Laboratory Animals)
The zebrafish is one of the most commonly used animals in scientific research, but there remains a lack of consensus over good practice for zebrafish housing and care. One such area which lacks agreement is whether laboratory zebrafish should be provided with environmental enrichment—additions or modifications to the basic laboratory environment which aim to improve welfare, such as plastic plants in tanks. The need for the provision of appropriate environmental enrichment has been recognised in other laboratory animal species, but some scientists and animal care staff are hesitant to provide enrichment for zebrafish, arguing that there is little or no evidence that enrichment can benefit zebrafish welfare. This review aims to summarise the current literature on the effects of enrichment on zebrafish physiology, behaviour and welfare, and identifies some forms of enrichment which are likely to benefit zebrafish. It also considers the possible challenges that might be associated with introducing more enrichment, and how these might be addressed.
Good practice for the housing and care of laboratory zebrafish Danio rerio is an increasingly discussed topic, with focus on appropriate water quality parameters, stocking densities, feeding regimes, anaesthesia and analgesia practices, methods of humane killing, and more. One area of current attention is around the provision of environmental enrichment. Enrichment is accepted as an essential requirement for meeting the behavioural needs and improving the welfare of many laboratory animal species, but in general, provision for zebrafish is minimal. Some of those involved in the care and use of zebrafish suggest there is a ‘lack of evidence’ that enrichment has welfare benefits for this species, or cite a belief that zebrafish do not ‘need’ enrichment. Concerns are also sometimes raised around the practical challenges of providing enrichments, or that they may impact on the science being undertaken. However, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that various forms of enrichment are preferred by zebrafish over a barren tank, and that enriched conditions can improve welfare by reducing stress and anxiety. This review explores the effects that enrichment can have on zebrafish behaviour, physiology and welfare, and considers the challenges to facilities of providing more enrichment for the zebrafish they house. View Full-Text
Keywords: zebrafish; environmental enrichment; welfare; laboratory animals; refinement; three Rs zebrafish; environmental enrichment; welfare; laboratory animals; refinement; three Rs
MDPI and ACS Style

Stevens, C.H.; Reed, B.T.; Hawkins, P. Enrichment for Laboratory Zebrafish—A Review of the Evidence and the Challenges. Animals 2021, 11, 698.

AMA Style

Stevens CH, Reed BT, Hawkins P. Enrichment for Laboratory Zebrafish—A Review of the Evidence and the Challenges. Animals. 2021; 11(3):698.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Stevens, Chloe H., Barney T. Reed, and Penny Hawkins. 2021. "Enrichment for Laboratory Zebrafish—A Review of the Evidence and the Challenges" Animals 11, no. 3: 698.

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