The effect of environmental enrichment on behavioral variability depends on genotype, behavior, and type of enrichment [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Jamilla Akhund-Zade, Sandra Ho, Chelsea O’Leary, and Benjamin de Bivort

Non-genetic individuality in behavior, also termed intragenotypic variability, has been observed across many different organisms. A potential cause of intragenotypic variability is sensitivity to minute environmental differences during development, even as major environmental parameters are kept constant. Animal enrichment paradigms often include the addition of environmental diversity, whether in the form of social interaction, novel objects, or exploratory opportunities. Enrichment could plausibly affect intragenotypic variability in opposing ways: it could cause an increase in variability due to the increase in microenvironmental variation, or a decrease in variability due to elimination of aberrant behavior as animals are taken out of impoverished laboratory conditions. In order to test our hypothesis, we assayed five isogenic Drosophila melanogaster lines raised in control and mild enrichment conditions, and one isogenic line under both mild and intense enrichment conditions. We compared the mean and variability of six behavioral metrics between our enriched fly populations and the laboratory housing control. We found that enrichment often caused a small increase in variability across most of our behaviors, but that the ultimate effect of enrichment on both behavioral means and variabilities was highly dependent on genotype and its interaction with the particular enrichment treatment. Our results support previous work on enrichment that presents a highly variable picture of its effects on both behavior and physiology.

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