The physiology of rainbow trout in social hierarchies: Two ways of looking at the same data

Josias M.B. Grobler, Chris M. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Salmonids form dominance hierarchies in environments, where space or food are limiting. Our first objective was to investigate the physiology of individual rainbow trout in 4-fish hierarchies. Our second was to compare conclusions drawn from grouping physiological data on the basis of social rank with those based on relating individual physiology to individual aggressive behavior. To create a social hierarchy, groups of 4 juvenile trout were fed (1 % ration) using a darkened feeding container, twice daily (morning and evening). Each morning feeding was videotaped to record aggressive behavior, thereby facilitating the assignment of a social status rank to each fish. On days 5 and 10-11, physiological parameters were measured in fish fasted for 24 h. Social hierarchies formed in all tested groups. One fish would become dominant, whereas the three subordinate individuals would each assume a stable social rank. When classified according to this social rank, the three subordinate individuals all displayed similar physiology, different from the physiology of the dominant fish. The latter included higher ammonia excretion rate, greater protein utilization in aerobic metabolism, greater feeding, higher specific growth rate, greater increase in condition factor, and lower routine oxygen consumption rate. However, when individual aggression was taken into account, a continuous gradient was observed between aggression and physiology for most parameters, regardless of social status. These relationships could be improved by normalizing the aggression score to the overall level of aggression in each hierarchy. We argue that individual behavior should be considered instead of just social rank when studying the physiology of trout in social hierarchies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)787-799
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Aggression
  • Ammonia excretion
  • Feeding
  • Growth
  • Oxygen consumption
  • Social rank

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology


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