For any animal, learning to distinguish between very similar spatial cues in the environment is a fundamental skill to acquire, because it can ultimately lead to a live or die situation. However, it is cognitively demanding to learn to discriminate between very similar spatial environments (as opposed to distinct ones). Spatial pattern separation is the cognitive process that keeps similar, overlapping memories distinct, and is thought to underlie many spatial tasks used in behavioral studies. In captivity, it has been shown that environmental enrichment can lead to enhanced spatial learning in fish, however, a task that utilizes spatial pattern separation has never been conducted on fish. In the current study, we used the delayed non-matching to place Radial Arm Maze (RAM) to determine if there were differences in spatial pattern separation in zebrafish (Danio rerio) housed with or without enrichment. In the delayed non-matching to place RAM, the animal has to discriminate between low spatially separated stimuli (near, similar) and high spatially separated stimuli (far, distinct). Our results show that environmental enrichment enhanced spatial learning at both low and high separation (i.e. at both spatially similar and distinct maze locations). Thus, enrichment did not selectively enhance zebrafish learning only at spatially similar cues as we expected, but rather zebrafish housed with enrichment were better learners overall. Given the growing use of zebrafish as a research model for behavioral research, these data will help us to understand how different housing and rearing methods influence spatial learning in captive lab fish, and ultimately will help to inform welfare guidelines on best practices for housing fish in captivity.
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Vol. 91 • No. 1