Numair Masud, Amy Ellison, Edward C. Pope, and Jo Cable
A lack of environmental enrichment can be severely detrimental to animal welfare. For terrestrial species, including humans, barren environments are associated with reduced cognitive function and increased stress responses and pathology. Despite a clear link between increased stress and reduced immune function, uncertainty remains on how enrichment might influence susceptibility to disease. For aquatic vertebrates, we are only now beginning to assess enrichment needs. Enrichment deprivation in fish has been linked to increased stress responses, agonistic behaviour, physiological changes and reduced survival. Limited data exist, however, on the impact of enrichment on disease resistance in fish, despite infectious diseases being a major challenge for global aquaculture. Here, using a model vertebrate host-parasite system we investigated the impact of enrichment deprivation on susceptibility to disease, behaviour and physiology. Fish in barren tanks showed significantly higher infection burdens compared to those in enriched enclosures and they also displayed increased intraspecific aggression behaviour. Infections caused hosts to have significantly increased Standard Metabolic Rates compared to uninfected conspecifics, but this did not differ between enriched and barren tanks. This study highlights the universal physiological cost of parasite infection and the biological cost (increased susceptibility to infection and increased aggression) of depriving captive animals of environmental enrichment.