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© 2018 The Author(s). Dominance hierarchies are common across the animal kingdom and have important consequences for reproduction and survival. Animals of lower social status cope with repeated social defeat using proactive and reactive behaviours. However, there remains a paucity of information on how an individual's coping behaviours changes over time or what neural mechanisms are involved. We used a resident-intruder paradigm in the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni to investigate the neural correlates of these two opposing behaviour groups. Fish initially used both proactive and reactive behaviours, but had a dramatic increase in use of proactive behaviours during the third interaction, and this was followed by cessation of proactive behaviours and exclusive use of reactive coping. By quantifying neural activation in socially-relevant brain regions, we identify a subset of brain nuclei, including those homologous to the mammalian amygdala, showing higher activation in fish displaying proactive but not reactive behaviours. Fish displaying reactive behaviours had greater neural activation in the superior raphe, suggesting a possible conserved function during social defeat across vertebrates. These data provide the first evidence on the involvement of specific brain regions underlying proactive and reactive coping in fishes, indicating that these nuclei have conserved functions during social defeat across taxa.

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Scientific Reports