Skip to main content

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

 Carole Lee

Carole Lee

Postgraduate researcher; PhD candidate

 Newman Lower Ground Floor (The Cave)


My research interests encompass the field of evidence-based fish welfare. I am interested in how social and physical environments, husbandry, and management protocols affect the behaviour and welfare of fish in research laboratories. My goal is to use evidence-based research to better understand how to provide for captive fish within our care.

Overall, my wider research interests include fish cognition and social behaviour within and between species. I’m also interested in the natural history of fish and how knowledge of a species’ natural environment, abundance, distribution, densities, social conditions, and limiting resources can be used to design laboratory experiments to test specific hypotheses and address questions about the effects of the laboratory environment in fish.

Reviews: I review manuscripts for the Journal of Fish Biology, Behavioural Processes, and the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE).

Memberships: I am a member of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, the Fisheries Society of the British Isles, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, and the Royal Society of Biology.


2017 MPhil Biological Sciences, University of Exeter
2014 BSc (Hons) Biology and Animal Behaviour, University of Exeter

Back to top


Research interests

Current research

My current research investigates the effects of the social and physical environment on welfare of laboratory zebrafish. I am investigating measures of behaviour and levels of activity that indicate wellbeing in zebrafish; the effects of tank size, shape, and stocking density on aggression and affiliative behaviour; how husbandry practices affect stress in zebrafish; and whether simple changes in the tank or social environment (e.g. tank/water changes) can provide positive stimulation for laboratory fish. I am also developing a computer model for the welfare assessment of zebrafish. The model will use weighted factors of attributes such as housing conditions, physiology, health, etc., based on collated scientific data, to assess the welfare status of the animals and produce a welfare score as output. My work to date suggests that significant welfare benefits may be achieved through simple and practicably changes to current practise in the housing and maintenance of zebrafish in research laboratories. Improved welfare will mean that zebrafish function more optimally, with likely improved reliability of research data, and help reduce both the number of fish required for each experiment and the likelihood of needing to repeat experiments. This research contributes directly to the principles of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) by reducing the number of experimental fish required and by refining animal welfare.

Previous research

The effects of environmental enrichment and environmental stability on the welfare of laboratory zebrafish

During my MPhil degree I showed that environmental enrichment, in the form of gravel and plants, affected survivorship, growth, body condition and behaviour in laboratory-maintained zebrafish. Larvae in enriched tanks had higher survivorship than larvae in plain tanks. Fish reared in enriched tanks were shorter than fish reared in plain tanks at 60 days post-fertilisation. Females in enriched tanks had higher body condition than females in plain tanks and body condition was more variable in males in plain tanks than in enriched tanks. Fish from enriched tanks also displayed lower levels of anxiety than fish from plain tanks when placed in a novel environment, and resource monopolisation was higher for enriched fish than for plain fish. Data generated by this study enhanced understanding of what environmental conditions improve housing for laboratory zebrafish.

Effects of environmental complexity on the behaviour of laboratory-maintained zebrafish

My undergraduate research asked whether zebrafish raised in different environments differ in behaviour and whether the behavioural phenotypes of zebrafish are fixed. To address these questions, shoals of zebrafish were raised in ‘plain’ and ‘enriched’ environments and activity and aggression compared. Shoals were then transferred from plain to enriched environments and vice versa, and activity and aggression compared with levels before the transfer. No differences in activity were found between fish reared in plain tanks and those reared in enriched tanks and activity levels did not change when the environment changed. Changing the environment did, however, increase aggressiveness in fish moved from enriched tanks to plain ones. These results suggest that the behaviour of zebrafish is not affected by the environment in which they are raised and that behavioural phenotypes are not fixed.

Back to top


Journal articles

Lee CJ, Paull GC, Tyler CR (2022). Improving zebrafish laboratory welfare and scientific research through understanding their natural history. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc, 97(3), 1038-1056. Abstract.  Author URL.
Lee CJ, Paull GC, Tyler CR (2019). Effects of environmental enrichment on survivorship, growth, sex ratio and behaviour in laboratory maintained zebrafish Danio rerio. J Fish Biol, 94(1), 86-95. Abstract.  Author URL.
Lee CJ, Tyler CR, Paull GC (2018). Can simple tank changes benefit the welfare of laboratory zebrafish Danio rerio?. J Fish Biol, 92(3), 653-659. Abstract.  Author URL.


Lee C, Tyler C, Paull G (2019). Behaviour of wild populations. In Cartner S, Eisen J, Farmer S, Guillemin K, Kent M, Sanders G (Eds.) The Zebrafish in Biomedical Research, Academic Press.
Lee CJ, Tyler CR, Paull GC (2019). Geographic range and natural distribution. In Cartner S, Eisen J, Farmer S, Guillemin K, Kent M, Sanders G (Eds.) The Zebrafish in Biomedical Research, Academic Press.

Back to top

Edit Profile