During my MSc in aquatic ecology, I became intrigued by animal welfare research after learning that a simple manipulation to holding tanks and raceways, the addition of cobble substrate, could reduce the magnitude of potentially painful fin erosion in farmed salmonids. For the remainder of my time in ecology, I was fascinated by the concept of environmental enrichment as a method to improve animal welfare. I am now pursuing a Ph.D. in Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Guelph under the supervision of Dr. Georgia Mason, where I am investigating the effects of environmental enrichment on zebrafish welfare and cognition.
Zebrafish are model organisms that are widely used in many different fields of research ranging from ecotoxicology to neuroscience. Native to streams in the Himalayas, they are now most often found housed in small, barren, transparent tanks in labs around the world. Despite their ubiquitous distribution and use, zebrafish welfare has not been extensively studied. The addition of environmental enrichment has been shown to alter zebrafish behaviour and brain development. However, different types of environmental enrichment have not yet been compared in terms of their impact on zebrafish welfare. My current research examines which environmental enrichments (adapted and derived from features of their native aquatic habitat), if any, are preferred by lab-reared zebrafish. Over the course of my Ph.D., I will also be investigating whether being reared with these preferred environmental enrichments improves zebrafish welfare, confers cognitive benefits, and/or enhances brain development.