Environmental enrichment is used to increase social and physical stimulation for animals in captivity which can lead to enhanced cognition. Fundamental to the positive effect enrichment has on the brain is that it provides opportunities for captive animals to recognize and discriminate between different stimuli in the environment. In the wild, being able to discriminate between novel or familiar stimuli has implications for survival, for example finding food, hiding from predators, or even choosing a mate. The novel object recognition (NOR) test is a cognitive task that is used extensively in the rodent literature to assess object recognition and memory, where the amount of time an animal spends exploring a novel vs. familiar object is quantified. Enrichment has been shown to enhance object recognition in rodents. More recently, the use of the NOR test has been applied to another animal model, zebrafish (Danio rerio), however, the effects of enrichment have not yet been explored. In the current study we looked at the effects of enrichment on object recognition in zebrafish using the NOR test. Adult zebrafish were housed in either enriched conditions (gravel substrate, plastic plants, shelter, heater and a filter) or plain conditions (heater and filter only) for 6 months before behavioral NOR tests were conducted. Enriched fish showed a preference for a novel object over a familiar one at a distance but did not show a preference during close inspection. Control fish did not show a preference at either distance. Our results suggest that enrichment can enhance zebrafish ability to discriminate between novel and familiar objects, but distance from the object may be an important factor. Future research is needed to determine whether any enhancements in object recognition are a result of an increase in sensory stimulation from being reared with enrichment, or whether it is due to a reduction in stress reactivity.
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